Do you have questions about auditions, music education, or creating/maintaining a website? Ever wondered how to choose your next piece or buy a new flute? Curious about my teaching method? Now's your chance to ask!
Every person who asks a question this week (12/29/13-1/4/14) will get a personal response from me. It might even include fun drawings or a video demonstration!
Share your questions in the comments section below. Happy Holidays!
There are two kinds of musicians: ones who use metronomes, and ones who don't realize they need a metronome.
The ability to keep an absolutely steady beat is learned like any other skill. It's tough at first, because we are human beings and not machines. I've had many students chafe against metronome work because it brings to light the tiny variances of tempo that they didn't notice before, and feeling like you're getting worse instead of better is frustrating.
Spend some quality time with your metronome and you'll find yourself improving in the following areas:
Complex rhythms: All rhythms are relative to the tempo you choose. No matter how fast or slow a piece is played, a half note lasts twice as long as a quarter note. For this to be true, there needs to be an established beat that all other rhythms reference. This becomes even more important when the rhythms you play are complicated; in order for the music to make sense, the listener must be able to feel the underlying, steady pulse. An uncertain, halting tempo is jarring to listen to and makes any sort of rhythmic complexity impossible to communicate.
Rubato: The art of "robbing time" is a zero-sum game. True rubato doesn't add or subtract any time from a measure; it simply borrows time from one note and adds it to another. You still reach the end of the measure at the exact same moment you would have had you played everything as written, with nothing shortened or lengthened. This skill is especially important when you collaborate with other musicians; they can only accompany you well if they can predict when you'll reach the end of the measure. You should never make your collaborators guess.
Accelerando and ritardando: A gradual (and intentional) increase or decrease in tempo only makes sense if the tempo has been clearly established. Otherwise, it just sounds like you aren't sure where the beat is.
Long story short: in order to do any sort of higher-level playing, you need a strong sense of the beat.
How to use a metronome:
Don't let it lead you. Meet the beat. Pretend it's a pianist chording along with you or a tuba playing quarter notes.
Pay attention. If you can't hear the metronome over the sound of your instrument, use headphones or hook the metronome up to some speakers.
Start with a slow, easy tempo. If you can't get your downbeats to line up with the beats of the metronome, slow down the metronome until they do align.
Put away your instrument! Sing or clap the rhythm along with the metronome. Take away the distractions of articulation, fingerings, and posture so that you can focus more fully on the accuracy of your rhythm.
Subdivide. Using a metronome to indicate the quarter-note beat is useful and is the most common method for tempo work, but see what happens when the tick of the metronome indicates eighth or sixteenth notes instead. Challenge yourself to be accurate down to the smallest subdivision possible!
Don't be deterred by expense; there are many online metronomes available for little to no cost. Metronome Online is my favorite (works best on laptops/PCs), but there are lots to choose from. Pick your favorite and start the new year with amazing rhythm!
The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook is finally finished and available for purchase! There is a stand-alone workbook available, as well as a combination pack that includes the workbook and personalized feedback from me about your work in each chapter. Check out some sample pages below (click to enlarge):
What format does the workbook come in? Right now, the workbook is available in PDF format. It is optimized for double-sided printing for your convenience.
How long is the workbook? The workbook is 96 pages of content, but the entire file is 100 pages including the cover and table of contents.
Is the workbook just for flutists? Not at all! The workbook is appropriate for any instrumentalist, not just those who play flute.
How does the personalized feedback work? With your deluxe edition purchase, you gain password access to the pages of this website that are dedicated to each chapter of the workbook. Each page contains areas to fill in your responses to the worksheets in the book. Your responses are emailed to me, and I provide detailed feedback and advice to you via email within 24 hours.
How much does the workbook cost? The stand-alone workbook is $14.99, and the deluxe edition with personalized feedback is $59.99.
Where do I buy the workbook? Right here! This site uses SSL encryption to keep your credit card information secure.
1.) People who refuse to give up.
Who will try more than one avenue to their goal, more than two, more than ten if that's what it takes. The ones who move over, under, around and through the obstacles.
2.) People who have no other love in their heart.
The ones who have no backup plan or fallback career. They have to make it work or they starve.
3.) Practical people.
The ones who set aside time to work toward their goal and don't let the initial fire of enthusiasm burn out after the first few weeks of a project. The ones who know that it takes a while for a project to gain momentum, but that once it starts gaining traction, the growth is exponential.
4.) People who believe in themselves.
There will be times in your career when the only person who believes in you is you. If that alone can't sustain you through the tough times, then you should find another field.
5.) People who aren't too proud to work a day job. Not everyone gets a fellowship or grant to fund their projects; some people have to subsidize themselves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with paying your bills while you pay your dues.
1.) Practice! The point of a private lesson is to gain new insight into both the pieces you're learning and the instrument you play. If you don't practice between lessons, you force your teacher to reiterate advice already given and to work with you on assignments that should have been done on your own time.
NOTE: This is not the same as practicing something with a concerted effort and remaining confused; this is normal and completely fine, especially when you're learning a new concept. But not touching your instrument between lessons is a waste of your money and everyone's time.
2.) Use lip balm frequently and liberally throughout the week. Chapped, cracked lips create an unfocused air stream, which in turn produces a fuzzy sound.
3.) Warm up on your own time! Do scales, long tones, and articulation exercises in all registers before your lesson starts so that your muscles will be prepared and responsive during your lesson. Don't make your teacher take time out of your lesson for warmups; this takes away from time that could be spent working on your music.
4.) Drink plenty of water. Dehydration leads to cracked lips and dry mouth, both of which interfere with sound production.
5.) Eat, but not too close to lesson time. It's hard to teach students who are full to bursting and can't take a full breath, but it's equally hard to keep students focused when their blood sugar is low. Give yourself at least an hour to digest before your lesson time.
6.) Take notes during your daily practice time. You probably won't remember all the observations you make or questions that arise over the course of a week, but sharing these with your teacher makes for extra-productive lessons. You relieve your teacher of the burden of trying to guess what you struggle with, which is different for each person. Even good teachers aren't mind readers; if you are having an issue that isn't readily obvious, such as joint pain or incomplete understanding of a concept, take some notes about it and bring them to your lesson.
7.) Take notes during your lesson. A lot of information is presented and assignments are given, so unless you have superhuman memory, write down some reminders for yourself as your teacher talks.
8.) Ask questions! If you don't understand or want to know more, don't be afraid to speak up. Questions are a sign of an engaged, attentive student and I personally enjoy when my students ask me things about what we're studying. Don't just save it for the lesson, either; if you really need to clarify something in order to get work done that week, email or call your teacher. It's much better to do that than to lose a week of practice time and walk into your lesson with minimal progress made.
9.) Pay attention when your teacher is talking. Assuming your teacher is qualified, what they have to say during your lessons will be valuable and helpful to you when you practice on your own during the week. You're paying to be there, so why not listen up?
10.) Be open to constructive criticism. You're studying with your teacher because you have more to learn, not because you know everything already.
The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook is nearing completion! Download a free sample chapter here and let me know what you think in the comments.
One day you notice that your sound doesn't have the same sparkle it used to, but you aren't doing anything different when you play. You feel like you're getting worse without even trying!
Rest assured that your sound hasn't changed at all; your ear has, and this is a good thing.
Ira Glass has a great take on this phenomenon. It's only a couple minutes long, check it out:
Assuming that you practice regularly and thoughtfully, you're going to hit the wall every now and then. For what seems like no reason at all, some part of the way you play will seem terrible when it used to be fine. This is because, like Glass talks about, your taste has become better than your ability. Your ear has refined itself and you have higher goals now.
So you work hard to get better. But by the time you improve enough to meet this new standard, your ear has also had time to find new things to hear that it didn't notice before. You hit the wall again and start over.
But here's what you have to remember: it only feels this way to you. Only you notice when you hit the wall. To outside observers, you just keep on getting better and better.
I have had many advantages in my life.
I grew up in a safe, happy home in northern Vermont. I had a great time in school and my childhood and adolescence were pleasant and fulfilling. I loved to play the flute and always got first chair in school band.
I had everything I needed. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough.
I harbored a dream to go to music school, and there weren't any colleges where I lived that had high-quality performance programs. I accepted that I needed to leave my home behind, at least for some time. I set my sights on a few schools in the northeast area of the country, but my heart was set on the Crane School of Music, in upstate New York.
So I practiced hard and was overjoyed when got into my school of choice. I arrived in Potsdam excited for the new challenge and pleased with myself for making it there. I had always done well in private lessons and school music programs so I figured I would do just fine in this new venture.
On the first day of classes, I was shocked by how far behind the eight ball I was. I had been a big fish in a small Vermont pond for years, and music school was a harsh reality check.
I knew only the most basic music theory. I had never thought to learn music history. I couldn't point out middle C on the piano keyboard. I didn't know bass clef. I had never done a conservatory prep program. I am fortunate enough to have parents who could have afforded to enroll me in these classes, but the high-caliber programs you find near large cities and universities just didn't exist where I lived.
Compared to my peers, I had barely prepared for college. I felt hopelessly inadequate.
Luckily for me, the point of music school (at least at the undergraduate level) is not to curate a community of people who already know everything about music. Its purpose is to teach future musicians how to be musicians. So over the course of my four years at Crane, I took the classes that others tested out of and increased my knowledge in the subjects that had so intimidated me when I arrived at college. The piano became less of a mystery. Music theory became a tool to use, not a thing to be feared. Music history became relevant. I slowly started to feel competent.
Some people are lucky enough to live in a city where pre-college and community music programs abound. The people who are even luckier also have the money to enroll in these programs. They get to spend time around many other aspiring musicians and figure out how their skills stack up. They have a chance to shore up any gaps in their knowledge before college. But not everyone has this advantage. So how do you level the playing field when you don't know how you compare to the rest of the pack?
Even if you aren't planning to audition any time soon, take a look at the degree programs at schools you're interested in. Most of them will outline the types of classes you'll be taking as well as the proficiency exams you need to pass. Some schools will post study guides for these exams; take advantage of these! The way subjects are taught varies somewhat from school to school, but the general standards are the same.
Email professors at universities you're considering and ask for their advice. Ask them if there's a particular music theory/history/ear training book they recommend. Not all professors will respond to you, but a lot of them are willing to give you some help.
The feelings of inadequacy I struggled with during my first years of college are what drove me to create the Conservatory Boot Camp program. Having been through this process, I wanted to help others navigate the audition season and get where they want to go.
But I realized that not everyone can afford hundreds of dollars in tuition for a program like this, and not everyone lives in the Greater Boston area, where I teach. There had to be a way for it to be more accessible to everyone. Thus, the workbook was born. It contains the same basic information as the full, in-person program, and there will also be a deluxe option that includes online advice and personalized feedback about the workbook activities. (These will be ready for release in early 2014.)
I believe there are inspiring future teachers, performers, and composers everywhere, even in areas of the country where the roads are rough and the cell service is spotty at best. I know this to be true because I grew up in an area just like that. I have also seen from my time in Boston that there are just as many amazing young musicians living in low-income areas. Talent is talent, and it's everywhere. I want to make sure that every aspiring music student has equal access to thorough audition prep, and Conservatory Boot Camp is my way of pursuing that goal.
...right away, that is.
Transitioning from high school to a college-level music program is tough. Everyone who gets into music school was the top dog in their band program back home. When faced with a level playing field for the first time, a lot of music students try to hide the fact that there are gaps in their knowledge. Some people are weak in music theory, others don't know much about music history. Some even manage to get in without knowing all their scales from memory.
At the undergraduate level, this is normal.
Bachelor-level music programs exist to teach future musicians how to be musicians, and that means instruction in theory, history, piano, and ear training. Anyone who already has 100% proficiency in these areas is wasting their time and money at college and should start auditioning for orchestras.
Knowing everything really isn't as important as wanting to know everything.
Music professors are looking for students with potential, students who will be a pleasure to work with for four years, students whose minds are open and who are willing to change the way they play if the new way is better. Most professors have no interest in dealing with jaded students who don't think there's anything left to learn.
So when you get to music school, remember this: you can be stubborn, think you know everything, and remain only as good as you were when you were a senior in high school.
OR you can be open to the idea that there are musical concepts you haven't considered and things you need to know but haven't even heard of, and you can continue to grow and improve for the rest of your life.
Guess who comes out on top?