Thursday, January 28, 2016

More Random Saxophone Musings....

Because I had a few thoughts on my mind today:

  • If you're practicing something and it's difficult, slow it down until it isn't. Music is best learned slowly so the body can learn the proper movement patterns. Slow and steady doesn't just win the race, it wins the practice room.
  • Listen to every genre of saxophone and find something to love in all of it....because you might be called on to play that genre one day and you need to be familiar with it. 
  • Virtuosity goes far beyond pushing the right keys at the right time. In fact, I'm certain that isn't even the most important aspect of being a virtuoso.
  • A good sound is important. Good technique is important. Far more important is the music you produce and what you are able to tell the audience through your instrument. 
  • Be your own worst critic but also your biggest fan and advocate. Stay positive about your progress; even if (and especially if) you aren't currently seeing any.
  • Find hobbies besides music. You need an escape and things to keep your mind working.
  • Realize that you are doing something cool even if others don't always see it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ye Olde Music Major and the Curious Case of the Flibbity Fingers...

If only I were as good at blogs as I am at fun titles...

   So, one might ponder, what in the world are 'flibbity fingers'? That's an easy answer. Simply put, 'flibbity fingers' are my term for any holes in technique which prevent a smooth transition between notes. Instead of playing two notes and hearing DAH-DAH, one would hear DahFLAHDah. In my situation it's due to two things; a painfully slow left ring finger and lack of technique development on the side Bb, C, and E keys. It might be different for you. So, how to deal with it?
    For some, the problems might work themselves out through basic pedagogy; i.e. scales, arpeggios, and the like. For me, a little more specificity is required. As fundamental study has improved my overall technique greatly, the 'flibbitys' have become more glaring. Here's what I've been doing to address the issue:
    The further I've gotten in my degree program, the more basic I've realized my practice routine needs to be. When I refer to practice, I'm not talking about working on literature or etudes. I refer to that as 'preparation' and will be the subject of another post; "Practice vs. Preparation". My current practice routine includes long tones and voicing work, scales (all 12 major, harmonic and melodic minor, whole tones, diminished, and octatonic...every practice session), and articulation work. Following that, I've started working on what I refer to as 'Flibbities'. Were one to stroll past my practice room during 'flibbity' work, one might thing I was doing really poor impressions of Phillip Glass. They are very simple 2-4 note patterns or scale fragments done over and over using a metronome and usually very slowly so I can listen for and completely internalize a very high level of precision. It's slow and boring, but must be done and must involve a high level of concentration. If I'm practicing a pattern of, say Palm D#, E#, F# to E, and D, then I want to hear those notes and ONLY those notes. 
     Why, you ask. Why put yourself through this? It's simple. That hole in my technique is what stands in between me and the literature I want to play. It stands in between me and mastery of the instrument. It stands in between what I am and what I desire to be as a musician. Once you attain a grasp of good basic technique (and we should never stop striving to set new bars as to 'good basic technique) the devil is in the details. 

Get to work.

Oh yeah, coming soon:
"The New Golden Age of Saxophone Production"
"Black Curtain Syndrome- How to get past audition jitters"(That one will be an interview, kids!)
"Practice vs. Preparation"

Please, comment and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Random Saxophone/Musician Thoughts.....

  • If you want to be a great player, treat every scale and long tone with the same attention to detail that you treat your favorite concerto. 
  • A well used pencil is a far more valuable piece of gear than a $700 mouthpiece.
  • The most important piece of gear is the one you were born with...YOU.
  • Every frustration, annoying passage, difficult phrase is part of the journey. Celebrate the successes and even the failures. They help you grow.
  • You're likely using far less air than you could or should be using.
  • Take care of your body. Watch your posture. Have others check it and watch you for excessive tension when you play. You keep your instrument well adjusted. Do the same with YOU. You still want to be able to enjoy playing when you are much later in life.
  • Enjoy what you do. Music is one of the greatest things on the planet!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Talent vs. Tenacity : Why legends are built, not born.

There are people with no talent and there are people with so much talent that it seems unfair.....

    I got fairly lucky there. I'm closer to the 'unfair' end of the spectrum than the 'no talent'. How much closer, I don't know. However, I see folks with more talent than me every day floundering and not really improving. In the situation I'm in, being back in college, the folks I'm referring to are college students who were talented enough where they never really had to work through high school and just got by on natural ability. These folks can usually fake their way through freshman year, maybe even sophomore. However, at some point reality catches up with them and they are exposed for their lack of effort. I've seen kids fall on their face in this situation due to the fact that they simply never learned how to work.
     I've heard a myriad of excuses here- "My professor just isn't very good.", "I don't have competition in my studio to drive me to get better.", "I'm only at University isn't like I'm at Indiana or Michigan. The bar is set lower here." I have responses to each which just shut them down.
1: I've been very lucky with major professors. Both of my long term sax teachers, Allen Rippe and Doug Owens, bring great and very unique skill sets to the table. However, there are students in the world who believe both are bad teachers? Do you know why? It's because these students believe that these teachers, AT A COLLEGE LEVEL, are somehow supposed to either inspire the student to practice or give them some sort of magical knowledge to where they won't have to practice hard. If you are a college music major and you need a teacher to inspire you to practice, then I submit that you really need to evaluate what you are doing as a music major.
2: If you need competition to make you work harder, well.....good luck getting a job. If you don't have the internal motivation to get after it and make yourself a better musician, then IF you even get a job, what are you going to expect from your students?
3: I'm at UT Martin. It's a small school which doesn't have a Julliard like reputation throughout the country. That said, the practice rooms here serve the exact same purpose as the ones at Julliard or Indiana. If anything, let the fact that you are at a smaller school put a little (positive) chip on your shoulder and drive you to be just as skilled as the students at larger schools.

     Yes, you need a certain level of talent to be a music major. However, hard work trumps talent ten times out of ten. Get in the practice room, give your instrument a steady diet of scales, long tones, articulation work, and voicing. Show your classmates, teachers, and the world what you can accomplish. Mostly, show YOURSELF.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Myth of the Mythical Lit.

   When I was a freshman oh so long ago, I got a copy of Don Sinta playing the Ingolf Dahl Concerto with the Michigan Wind Ensemble. I must have listened to it over a hundred times thinking "Man, I could NEVER play that piece.". A few months after I got the recording, Sinta played a recital in Memphis. He played 'Distances Within Me', William Albright's 'Sonata', and Bolcom's 'Lilith'. Immediately I had three more 'mythical' pieces. That is, pieces that only someone like a Don Sinta could play.
    I arrived at Martin a few years ago and began to hear the same things from some of my classmates. "Man, the Mackey Soprano Concerto is impossible!" "Wow, Black Dog will never be played on my clarinet. It's just too hard!"

"No wonder you can't do it! You acquiesce to defeat before you even begin."- Pai Mei, Kill Bill, Vol. 2

   Whether you decide a piece is impossible or eventually one which you can play, you are 100% right. The biggest thing to recognize that each and every master (with a few exceptions...those jerks!) was once where we are now. Their arrival as a 'great' one on their chosen instrument was accomplished by choosing one path; locking themselves in a practice room and busting their collective tails until they had the chops to play whatever they wanted to play. Get out that scale book and the metronome. Work on scales. Work on etudes. Work on articulation work, voicing, patterns......anything you can work on to get better at your instrument. Remember this rule, always...


  Get in the practice room. Get the chops. Make those 'mythical' pieces just another part of your arsenal. 

......oh, and the Dahl? Learned the third movement this fall and putting the rest together this spring.