Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Want To Do A Ballet

But I don't want to do a stuffy ballet that has no elements of modernity in it.  I want to do a ballet where a dancer gets to fully participate in the creation process.  I want the dancer to have a chance to design half the dances herself without the input of any music, and I would love to give her half the music to use to choreograph.  I saw some of the most amazing dancers today just from a local studio, but these were strong girls who were artistic, creative and fearless.  I want to work with people like that.  I want the ballet to be an indie pop/rock album, but I want it to mean something to little girls who want to be dancers as they watch someone who is strong and still young absolutely killing it visually.  I just think that would be so cool.  Not just for me but for the girl does the dancing, a chance for us both to create something wholly unique.

Too many projects and not enough time :)

PS–Guys, if you don’t already know, girls are STRONG, and most of them can snap you in half.  The “girlier” things they do, they’re probably even tougher.  You need to recognize.  Girls rule, and us boys, we drool ;)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Playing Loud Is Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

I posted this past Saturday about playing loud.  I believe I said something like:

"Boy and girls.  Playing loud is something you have to practice...not a fancy you indulge.  Conductors can tell when you can't do it."

Well, that's true, but it goes much deeper than that.  Then I had a small exchange with a lovely person on Tumblr about that because she said she never plays loud enough.  So, I thought I should address it.

I have talked, long in the past....way far back....about the way in which you perceive your tone.  You have to have a tonal concept.  You have to know how you want to sound, and you have to work until you get that sound.  This tonal concept should drive everything you do, and it should drive you crazy when you are not getting the sound you want.

That tonal concept takes you to places that you will enjoy.  You will sound better overall, and you will learn quickly how to mane the most of the tone you do have.  If you are playing enough, you are going to learn how to produce large amounts of sound, and you are going to learn what your limits are.  HOWEVER, there comes a point of diminishing returns.

Bass clarinet is not an instrument you play just doesn't sound good that way.  You play loud to develop your sound, but those are not your best tones.  The best sounds you will make are RESONANT.  If your tone is truly resonant, it will be perceived as much louder than it really is, and that is a triumph in and of itself.

How do you get a resonant tone?  The concept.  You have to go back to the concept over and over.  A big billowing tone that just sort of wafts out of your instrument like smoke.  It goes everywhere and everyone can hear it.  THAT is what you are looking for.

Think of it like this.  You are in your room late at night, and you turn the TV down to not disrupt anyone.  As the night gets later and you binge watch a whole season of your favorite show, you keep turning the TV down because you start perceiving it as louder and louder.  It is NOT getting louder, but you perceive it that way.

In the same way, the more time you spend with your tonal concept, it gets perceived as louder and louder.  The only problem is that no one EVER talks about tone.  They just don't.  They talk about technique and cleanliness and stuff you can teach to a chair.  You cannot teach a chair to play with a resonant tone.  I get yelled at for it all the time, but the simple fact is that I am using about 30-40% of my available air when I am playing "loud" and no one even remotely understands that concept.  That is why you I play on such an open setup.  I don't need all the resistance.  I just don' prevents me from making the sound I want.

Ok, how do I do THAT?

Well, you have to open your mouth.  If you have ever been in band, you have likely heard some form of brass instruction that centers around dropping your tongue, using more air and air efficiency.  THAT is where I learned that.  So, you can blame a lot of people for me playing "loud" but none of them play woodwind instruments.  I adopted the dropped tongue, open air and pedal tone practice from brass players.

Guess what, folks.  You're practicing the wrong things :)  There are three things I can recommend that will change your life if you're willing to do them (and I am have just realized I need to make a video of this.)

1.  Remington's Chromatic Exercises

Remington knew what he was doing, and this works well for everyone.  Play F concert, descend by a half step and back up to F.  Then down a whole step and back up to F and so on until you end on Bb concert.  Start on Bb and use that as tonic.  Now you go down a half step and back up.  Down a whole step and back up until you have reached the bottom of the horn.  The only catch is that all the notes have to sound exactly the same.  That is 10 million times harder than you think it is.  Now play it loud.  It just got harder.  Now play it louder.  It got even harder.  Do that a few thousand times, and you will be able to resonate that exercise to make it sound like you are playing a VERY broad sound without using much air at all.

2.  Field Warm Ups For Band

This exercise comes from Jay Bocook's "Field Warm Ups For Band".  Play pretty darn loud starting on low Bb concert chromatically down to low E concert and back up in quarter notes.  Then repeat that immediately in eighth notes TWICE.  That is three times through the pattern.  Every note has to be the same, and it you have to make it to the end of the exercise.  Good luck with that, again, it is harder than you think.

3.  Use Softer Reeds For God's Sake!

Time for some tough love.  Yes, I'm talking to you.  Your reeds are probably too hard.  They just are.  Your tone sounds generic because the reeds are not flexible enough for you to do anything other than what the reed provides, and the reed is providing VERY little.  Guess what, use softer reeds.  I play on a Gonzalez 2.75 which is about a Vandoren Blue Box 2.5  I know, I hear you gasping.  Dude, it works.  It just does.  Stop wasting your money on reeds that you know deep down in your soul are too hard.  You are killing your sound from the inside out because you cannot get any air into your instrument.

Now you have a recipe for resonance.  The final step is to play with a BROAD sound, not a loud sound.  Loud sounds are annoying, broad sounds cover everything in the room.  Just imagine the difference in your mind before you dismiss that concept.

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Music Is Not All Tears

I had my first rehearsal for a gig I do every year with a training orchestra here in town.  It's a lovely group, and the conductor is fantastic.  I played about half a movement of a piano concerto and Jupiter my time with his group ten years ago, and every year there is something really interesting going on in the group.  I have fun when I go to rehearsal, and this year is no different.  However, I was thinking about all the posts I see on Tumblr about crying and practicing and the like.  I wasn't perfect, but I wasn't crying.

Learn To Laugh At Your Mistakes

If you are laughing at your mistakes, you tend to get over them faster.  You are not to be so amused that you do not appear to care, but you should be able to laugh at yourself and say "Maybe I'll play that right next time" or "Oh, I actually played it right that time."  It won't be wrong at the next rehearsal, and you can enjoy yourself while in rehearsal.  Remember, I'm getting paid, and I'm laughing at myself...because I know what I'm doing.


Be interactive in rehearsal.  You cannot sit there and say nothing, and you cannot be the person who picks out every little perceived problem on the part.  You need to play your part well, ask questions if they really need asking and pipe up every now and then to let the conductor know you're still alive.  This is more fun because piping up leads to some fun banter between you and the people around you or even the conductor.  I was doing an Austin Powers impression in rehearsal...I don't know about you, but that's way more fun than sitting there all stone faced and angry because there might be a wrong note in this new part and I am going to theoretically analyze it to prove I'm right when I bring it up because how dare the conductor give us parts with wrong notes on them.  Just a tip--SHIT HAPPENS.  Play well, take it seriously, but have fun.

Don't Be Shy

I'm not necessarily advocating messing with the conductor, but I am advocating playing out until you get told to shut up.  You will have some nice exchanges over the quality of your sound this way.  You can see how far you can go, and you will learn how the group sounds.  This is especially important if you have not really played with most of these people before.  I play loud enough to get one dirty look from a flutist in front of me every rehearsal, and I love it.  They're not used to it, and I'm not playing out of tone, so it usually works :)

Don't Take Critiques Seriously

It's just a critique.  Like, I played the same passage out of time a couple times in this last rehearsal because I didn't want to insert as much space as was required because there was a phrase marking on the paper.  I tried to play it in a cute fashion, and it didn't work.  He got on my case ever so slightly, then I said I would stop playing it cute and it was fine.  That's all.  No hard feelings.  This conductor is a great guy.  Sidenote:  You can tell when the conductor is actually being horrible to you...make sure you discern the difference.

Don't Be Too Prepared

What I mean is, you are not so prepared that you can't flow with the group.  It's like the freshman who says "this is my spot."  That doesn't need to know your part, but you need to flexible so you can move with the group and the feeling you get from the music.  This is NOT like playing excerpts for auditions (which is a flawed system in and of itself because it never accounts for musical feeling.)  This is just going with the flow.  If you're thinking that you have to railroad everyone to play your tempo, that won't work.  You need to follow everyone else.

Remove Anxiety

Well, that's what we just did.  Get rid of the anxiety and you are going to have more fun.  Playing your instrument is fun...even if college made you forget that.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Patreon, Here We Come

So, I am slowly creating a Patreon profile so that I can get more funding to complete my work.  This is not a sales pitch, it's more of a PSA.  You can use Patreon to create a great many things, and it might help you pay your rent, etc.  It's a very cool platform.  If you wanted to donate to me, that's great, but there's lots of good people on the site, and that is a very cool thing.

Improvisation IS For You Even If You Think It Isn't

(Off the top, my thanks go out to Emily for encouraging me to improvise and not be afraid...she's the reason I can even talk about this without fear...)
Have you ever been stuck with your own thoughts?   Have you not tried improvising because it's reserved only for the best jazz soloists, and you can't do it because you might not play a jazz instrument?   Time to take those thoughts and turn them into something.
Improvisation has no wrong notes , and you can always turn around some misplaced notes.   You just have to try it... You have thoughts in your head that will eat you alive or get lost because you are not using them... Don't give them away and sit alone with thoughts you can't use. 

Improvisations are literally NEVER wrong.  You cannot screw them up.  I used to think that because I didn't play a jazz instrument (and I was never allowed to audition for jazz band) that I just couldn't do it.  I never felt comfortable in that world even though I know how to read changes and all that.

The problem with missing out on jazz band was that no jazz band director ever wanted me to beat one of their tenor sax players.  The problem with thinking that improvisation is a jazz form is that it isn't.  There's an organ competition every four years that has an improvisation round.  There's a whole society for improvisation that's mostly classical musicians doing their thing.  I improvised for like 10 straight minutes in a (very short) recording session because the guy wanted some extra material.  After he said he just let me keep going because he was so interested.  That same session we did about 7 minutes straight up with no plan at all...and he's coming back to the church where I'm the choir director so we can shred.  HE HAS NO IDEA THAT I HAVE NO JAZZ EDUCATION.  Nor would he care.

You think of tunes...try to write them down, or just play them.  Whatever works for you.  Your tunes could turn into anything.  When I get my channel really going on YouTube I have hours of improvs that I did in the sunroom of my wife's great aunt and uncle's house.  It's really good, and it's all made up.

I know you might be afraid of it, and I was, too, but you can totally improvise.  You just can, and I have to thank Emily again for encouraging me to do it in the first place because now I can't imagine why I wasn't doing it sooner.  It is not a mystical art.  It is just your ideas as they come out.  Don't be afraid, it's actually pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What The Bass Clarinet Means To Me: Anxiety Be Gone!

Anxiety is not something I ever thought I had...I just thought I was a freak.  I could be standing in the middle of a room and feel a tightness in my chest over nothing.  I don't like small talking people, and I don't like trying to make a thousand friends.  I have anxiety about different things every day, and I have been like that since I was...5.  I remember that clearly...but I never had anxiety when I was playing...not after I switched to bass.

You might think that that's really nice and all, but how does that apply to you...well, it applies because there is something to be said for the thing that you are supposed to be doing.  You know what I mean?  I mean, you might get a little nervous before a performance, but that's a LONG way from feeling anxiety all the time. 

Finding the thing that you love to do that frees you from anxiety for even a moment is a VERY easy way to find other things that revolve around the thing that does not make your feel anxious.  You would be shocked to find all the things that you can do that revolve around the thing that you love to do.


Look, I'm doing that right now!  You can write about literally anything that revolves around it, and you will be able to keep writing as many times as the mood strikes you.  Hell, you could write a book.


You do not have to be greatest of all time at what you do.  You just don't have to be.  You can be someone who LOVES it, and that is FAR more valuable than being the best ever.  Yeah, you can have high hopes and make lofty goals, but you just need to do it.  This is going to help you to have fun when you are trying to get to where you want to go.  Sure, you might have to wait a while, but waiting is better than NOT doing the thing you need to be doing and feeling like shit about it because the thing that you are doing is making you anxious as hell.


Talking about the thing is going to make it feel more lively for you...technically this blogging counts as talking, or you can simply find a social media platform where you can talk to other people who do the thing.  You can get more out of this than you could possibly imagine, and you can do it for a long time without ever stopping.  If it makes you chatty, you are going to feel less stressed about like in general.  You get rid of the anxiety just long enough to enjoy the thing.


Helping people is the best thing you can do for yourself.  It really does feel better to help others than it does to help yourself, and you can learn about the thing even more than you thought.  You will make friends, and you will have a way of working doing the thing.  That's teaching :)

The time is now...I certainly don't know how to cure anxiety, but I know how I get around it as much as possible :)  I hope this helps...

Practicing Without Pain

Practicing is difficult if you think that you need learn everything in one night.  Practicing is difficult if you think it doesn't do anything.  Practicing is difficult if you think that you're going to die the next day when you get to school/your lesson/rehearsal or whatever.  Practicing is difficult if you hate your progress, and practice is difficult if you think that 1% progress is not enough.

You have to do a few things before you start practicing:

1.  Forgive yourself for not getting it all done at once.
2.  Forgive yourself for your mistakes.
3.  Stop comparing yourself to others.
4.  Stop playing something that makes you want to scream.
5.  Be willing to take less time to do more.

This may sound like therapy, but you need to remember that you are not a bad person or a bad player because you mess up when you practice.  Everybody screws up a lot.  There are some people who learn more the more they screw up.  Teachers often as you to practice, but they never tell you what a practice session looks like.  They never tell you that professional musicians have "preferred pieces" that they play more often than anything else.  So, if you are listening to a recording to someone shredding a piece you are playing, you re listening to someone who has played that piece literally a thousand times.  That's probably their thing...they are great players all of them...but you might be listening to someone's wheelhouse.  What if you are not in your wheelhouse?  You are going to think you're fucked.  You have to step back and think..."Oh, that's not my bag."  You'll work hard, but you can wash away the comparisons.


Mistakes are often more informative than right notes.  Right notes just sound good, but mistakes tell you all the things you don't know.  You can learn about your own playing by listening to what you mess up.  You may discover small problems with your playing that are not obvious until you actually listen to your mistakes.  You have to love your mistakes because they point to things that will change your perspective.


If you want to spend all your time hating your playing, feel free to think other people are perfect.  Here's a secret...they aren't.  Mess up a lot so you can get it out of your system.


Yeah, you need to run through things...sometimes.  You need to practice things daily.  Runthroughs are going to drain you, and you are going to notice that you need multiple takes to get it right.  You may counter by saying that you have to be able to drop bombs cold in an orchestral audition, but I'm not stupid...I know the majority of the audience here is not taking orchestral auditions.  You have a concert coming up, and you will surrounded by other people who are playing.  Momentum is a real thing, and the band pulls you along.  It just does.


Everybody needs a thing.  Your tone, tonguing, range, something.  You need a thing that makes you say...yeah, I'm REALLY good at that.  You can be proud of that everytime you do it, and you will be able to fall back on that when you don't feel so good about a practice session.


You can practice for hours and hours, but that does not mean the practice is working.  You will hit the point of diminishing returns somewhere around three hours.  Some people hit that point WAY sooner.  You could get more done in ten minutes than some people can do in two hours if you are focused.  That's just reality.  Stop judging your practice by duration and start judging it by efficiency.


Did you make 1% progress today?  Then you did something.  Awesome!  You should not be discouraged because you fixed a tiny thing today or did a tiny thing today.   You need to be proud of what you did so you will want to practice again tomorrow.  People who hate practicing are dreading it the next day...that's a fact.  People who are ready to practice the next day at happy with at least one thing they did the day before.

If you hate your practice sessions it is like running a marathon, cutting off one leg and then running the marathon the next day.  I imagine you won't be too excited about it the next day.


It's only hard if you make it hard on yourself.  There is so much shame and BS going around the music world that you can hate your playing without even realizing how much you hate it.  Stop hating it and start loving it...practicing might get a little easier.