Archive for: Life Lessons

Keeping Up with Programs

Learning pieces is of course important in practicing technique and also for putting programs together. As your musical life (hopefully) expands and improves, it becomes quite tough to keep up with all of the pieces you have learned. Here are a few tips to try keep in mind.

  1. Have some reliable set pieces your can always count on. You never know when a concert opportunity might arise. Sometimes whoever hires you will have a specific piece(s) in mind for you to play, especially if it’s for a group performance (with choir, orchestra, string ensemble, etc). But for solo performances, most of the time it is up to you. Always keep in mind pieces you like playing and pieces you feel are performance ready or can be easily worked back up to performance ready quality.
  2. Put in a lot of hard work in learning pieces the first time. It will pay off immensely later on down the road. Pieces I put a lot of time and effort into the first time I learned them either stay in my memory bank no matter what, or at the very least, is mostly still in my memory and will come back after playing through it a couple of times with or without the music. It always amazes me how, even if I haven’t played those pieces in awhile, quickly it can all come back if learned properly.
  3. As mentioned before, sometimes you can get away with not keeping up with pieces and allowing muscle memory to kick in. But the best way to make sure you remember these set pieces is to occasionally play through them and see what kind of shape they are in. Depending on how much practice time you get with your schedule will determine how much time you can spend with the pieces. David Russell has a system where he makes a practice log labeling which pieces he’s practiced, when, and what performing shape they are in. Of course with a schedule like Maestro Russell has this is extremely helpful. It almost doesn’t matter what system you create or use as long as it works for you.

You never know when a performance opportunity might come up. Instead of scrambling to pull programs together, always try keep in mind programs for future use. You can obviously substitute different pieces along the way, but it’s a lot easier to pull together already existing programs you have than to start from scratch.

Life After Music School

Life After Music School

Throughout my studies, teachers and more experienced guitarists always told me to take advantage of the time I had in school, because after that, practicing and learning pieces gets harder and harder. But no one ever really explains why. I always thought between the various classes I had to take and other projects, life after school couldn’t be too much different. Now after almost a year of teaching, it all makes sense to me. After hours of teaching and playing (even if simple one line pieces or simple pop songs), when I’m home I often feel like the last thing I want to do is play more guitar. There is certainly an adjustment period of getting used to the work schedule and practicing for yourself.

I know we all aspire to be traveling musicians, performing in amazing venues, and supporting ourselves with concerts. But the reality is very few people can earn their living this way alone. More than likely, teaching is needed to supplement what performance opportunities we are given. Here are a few tips I suggest for current students studying music.

      1. Learn the pieces you want to while you can. While in school, even though there are general guidelines as to what to play, often times your teacher allows you to pick the pieces you would like to learn. Take advantage of that. Many of the pieces you learn in school stay with you forever. And since it gets harder to practice and learn after school, learn what you want to now while you have the time to do it. Also, often times for performance opportunities, the piece is already chosen, and you’ll have to learn that as opposed to a piece maybe you’ve always wanted to play.

      2. Get used to the mornings. I have never been a morning person. While in school, my best practices were in the evening, when I felt more alive and productive. Now I’m often done teaching late in the evening, then I need to eat dinner, and by the time I would be ready to get a practice in, it’s far too late. Life after school often doesn’t afford you the luxury of private practice rooms, especially if you live with roommates or spouses or have a family by then. More than likely your teaching schedule starts in the afternoon and goes to the evening when kids get out of school or some of the adults get off of work. Therefore, the morning becomes your best option for practicing. This is something I’m still trying to get used to, so I suggest experimenting with morning practices now.


Overcoming Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety plagues everyone, including some seasoned veterans. Yesterday, I performed for the Fort Worth Guitar Guild’s Library Series and felt rather comfortable on stage (as opposed to the night before and waiting back stage in which I often let my emotions get the best of me). But for me, being comfortable performing on stage for people is a rather recent phenomenon in terms of my (albeit rather young) musical career. Part of the reason I have been able to overcome this is my improvement in my technique and playing. The more you feel you can rely on good technique coming through, even during stressful situations, the more comfortable you will feel. Being well prepared always helps. But more than anything, just like everything else, you get better at performing by essentially “practice” performing. And what I mean by that is getting out there and actually performing. The more you put yourself out there, the more you realize little mistakes will always happen (and for the most part no one cares), and the more you will be able to relax and make beautiful music for an audience that for the most part is there for support and to enjoy the wonderful sounds you create.

Diverse Lifestyle: Physically and Musically

Watching the Olympics is inspiring. Watching athletes train extremely hard to be at their best physically and perform beautifully under lots of pressure and the world’s eyes watching is a wonderful thing to see. Musicians are quite similar to this. We spend hours and hours per day trying to play our instruments the best we can and build endurance in order to perform long, difficult programs. Many people have used this “athlete/musician” analogy before. And it is absolutely true. However, I am using this post to discuss diversifying our hobbies and becoming more active outside of the practice room.

Playing music requires lots of time to master, but there is more to life than sitting in a room all day learning new pieces or perfecting old ones. Doctors spend all of their time at hospitals and studying new medicines and diagnostic techniques, etc, but even their stereotype is that they are always on a golf course. After spending a day sitting and making music (though admittedly tiring), everyone must find an activity that releases energy throughout the body. Playing tennis, or any other racquet related sport, not only makes me feel better because I like doing it, but it always helps me release tension. And we all play much better with less tension. The key really is to find something you enjoy doing. It’s too difficult to force yourself to do something rather than want to do it.

But not only should your physical activity be diverse, but you should have a plethora of “musical activity” as well. I don’t just mean work on solos and chamber music (which to me is a must as well!), but listen to various types of music and ensembles as well. Guitarists,  listen to symphonies, listen to operas, string quartets. We spend our whole day with the guitar. Listening to other pieces, instruments, and ensembles inspires and deepens our understanding of music and how it “should sound.” I remember working on Mauro Giuliani’s Grand Overture my junior year of undergrad. Once I had the piece in my fingers, my teacher gave me a homework assignment: listen to Rossini. Not listen to recordings of what others have done with the piece, or even other Giuliani works, but rather listen to other genres of music from the time period that resemble the character of the piece. Get that sound in my head so I can try figure out how to turn my guitar into a miniature Italian orchestra. I always feel as guitarists we are in our own world musically. And we are. We are very specialized, play a quiet instrument, and play an instrument many composers don’t know how to write for and stay away from. But that doesn’t mean listening to other instruments won’t help our own playing. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, earlier in July 2012, Pepe Romero gave me the same advice (as well as reading books and familiarizing myself with other art forms) in a private lesson I had with him, and he seems to be pretty good at playing and interpreting guitar music.

The world offers unlimited beauty in many forms, but you have to go outside occasionally to see it.