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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Quote

You Can't Break a Bad Habit

Andrew Hitz

This is precisely why it is so important to not rush through things and learn them the wrong way when practicing. The key word in the last sentence of the above Arnold Jacobs quote is gradually.

Once you have established a habit, the only way to replace it with a new one is gradually over time. Translation: it's a lot of work.

I was also always taught that the brain does not respond well to the word don't. If you write something like "Don't Drag" in your music then your brain first comprehends "Drag" which is not exactly ideal. I always have my students write the positive version of whatever they're working on so "Don't Drag" becomes "Groove" or "Steady Tempo".

Ideally, we don't ever learn something wrong in the first place because the extra time we take to learn something with slow and deliberate practice will be more than saved by not having to relearn it the right way. But if we do, rather than focusing on not doing it wrong, we need to replace it with the correct version and then have the patience to see the entire process through which will take a while no matter what we do.

Bringing Your Own Rhythmic Urgency

Andrew Hitz

"Make sure you can maintain a sense of rhythmic urgency without a metronome going."
—David Zerkel

Practicing with a metronome is essential for any musician serious about playing with great rhythm.

Practicing without a metronome is also essential for any musician serious about playing with great rhythm.

Let me explain...

To improve at anything on your instrument you must enter a feedback loop. That means getting precise data about what is actually coming out of your horn, using that data to try something a little different and then getting more data.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

In this case, that means using a metronome and a recording device to figure out whether you are playing perfectly in time. And if not, noticing the patterns of how or where you are playing with bad rhythm so you can adjust accordingly.

But some players fall into a trap of practicing with a metronome all the time (or darn close to it.) While this might seem like a good idea, it is actually a really bad idea. You never want to come to rely on a tool that won't be present when you are performing or auditioning.

The way to properly use a metronome is to record yourself both with it and without it to see if you can play with great time regardless. It should be used as a reference point, not provide the rhythm for you.

So there are two types of people who can fall into the lack of rhythmic urgency without a metronome trap that David Zerkel alluded to in the above quote, those who never use a metronome and those who use one too much.

A Trick to Getting More Musical When Doing Drills

Andrew Hitz

Want to know a trick to instantly be more musical and focused when doing mundane drills or warming up?

Broadcast yourself using Facebook Live, Instagram stories or on YouTube.

No, seriously.

Even if three people are watching you, hell, even if there is only a threat of just three people watching you, you will be incredibly focused.

As anyone who has ever taught knows, it is awfully easy to be fully engaged when performing a drill for a student. And that's just with an audience of one. With social media, you can recreate that phenomenon any time you'd like.

Simply posting a one-minute chunk in the middle of your warm-up will engage your brain and make you much more focused, even after the camera is off.

If you are bored while doing drills or warming up, there are tools at your disposal to remedy that situation. If you don't use any of them and continue to not play at your absolute focused, best, it's on you.

And every one of your heroes on your instrument is always playing at her or his focused best.

The Arnold Jacobs Straw Exercise

Andrew Hitz

This is a great exercise for two reasons:

  1. Students feel the sensation of air movement which is a much better thing to focus on than any body movements or where the air is headed
  2. This lets the student experience firsthand the difference in efficiency when they inhale with a good oral shape

Combine this with the "EE to Oh" exercise out of the brass gym and you can fix a whole lot of breathing issues without ever addressing them. And in teaching, using fewer words means less chance for confusion and getting to the actual doing of the activity being addressed faster.

Arnold Jacobs on Playing Drills

Andrew Hitz

I find "being musical" is a very difficult thing to just turn on and off like a light switch. And I have yet to meet a single student in 25 years of teaching who was very good at that either.

So even "just" the drills and basics need to be done as musically as possible 100% of the time.

I sometimes like to visualize one of two things to help me with this:

  1. I am broadcasting the drills to Facebook Live and soliciting honest feedback
  2. I am recording the drills for a recording to accompany a method book

Do you think Sam Pilafian and Pat Sheridan had to be reminded to focus when they were recording the accompaniment to The Brass Gym? First of all, they are always concentrating to a high level. But even still, the threat of shipping to the world a recording of you playing your own exercises poorly is a good way to get you to focus.

How do you focus when you are "just" playing drills and other basics? It's what separates the truly great players from the good ones.

The Tricky Part of Awareness

Andrew Hitz

"Awareness of what is without judgement is relaxing and is the best precondition for change."
—Timothy Gallwey from The Inner Game of Tennis

The without judgement part is the real key to the above quote. Any time I catch myself using the word should I know I am going down a dangerous (or at the very least not helpful) path.

I should be more prepared for this recital.

I should have this piece memorized by now.

I should already have a gig.

I should have my lesson plans done for tomorrow.

The problem with judgement is that it focuses on something that can't be controlled or changed, the past. And focusing on something that can't be changed is not a good precursor for change.

And yet awareness is incredibly vital. Without knowing what your blind spot is as a conductor, a bassoon player or an entrepreneur, you have very little chance of improving it.

So be brutally honest with yourself about what you can and can't do and yet be kind to yourself and accept what has already happened (or not happened!) as exactly what it is, done.

Perhaps my favorite quote of all time sums this up perfectly:

"You have to abandon all hope for a better past."


I drove through a beautiful snow-kissed Glenwood Canyon yesterday on my way to Grand Junction to be the featured guest artist at The Best of the West Festival at Colorado Mesa University!

I drove through a beautiful snow-kissed Glenwood Canyon yesterday on my way to Grand Junction to be the featured guest artist at The Best of the West Festival at Colorado Mesa University!

Arnold Jacobs on Developing the High Register

Andrew Hitz

This is a really great way for a student to begin developing their high register on any instrument. Starting with something familiar takes a few layers of complexity out of the equation.

And playing music rather than exercises will keep the brain focused on the phrasing which keeps the wind or the bow moving.

The Best Quote I've Ever Heard About Goal Setting

Andrew Hitz

"A good goal is one that changes your actions in the moment. Like, right now. Goals are not about the future. They are about the present moment. Changing your present actions."

—Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers is one of my favorite thinkers/authors/speakers/entrepreneurs in the world. He regularly makes me think about things in a different way or inspires me to try something new.

This is the best quote I've ever heard about goal setting. I've never heard the quality of the goal attached to whether it inspires you take to immediate action which makes all the sense in the world.

Two summers ago I decided to learn all of my major scales in thirds with the descending scales featuring ascending thirds. I learned ascending thirds on the way up and descending thirds on the way down many years ago. I have played that pattern at most once a year for the last decade and could do it perfectly right now. It is fully engrained. But playing ascending thirds on the way down was like reading a foreign language at first! Surprisingly so actually.

So I made a very specific goal for myself which was something like this:

I will play all the major scales in thirds around the circle of fourths in 8th notes at quarter note equals 100 with ascending thirds on the way up and ascending thirds on the way down from memory by August 20th without making a single mistake.

This goal made me immediately spring into action. It was made around July 1st and I had a very busy summer planned. I wasn't going to have a ton of time to practice because of gigs, family obligations and vacation. Putting a hard date on it that was neither overly aggressive nor so far in the future that there was no sense of urgency was the key.

It ended up forcing me to spend a lot of time on basics and certainly led to me having a few practice sessions that surely would not have happened otherwise. Using Derek's litmus test, this was a good goal since it made me take immediate action.

My students are going to get sick of me saying this quote very quickly because it is about to permeate my teaching.

So if you have a goal that isn't changing your present actions, the question to ask yourself is how can I improve this goal so that it does?