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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Rhythm

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.

Selling the Concept of Time During Long Notes

Andrew Hitz

"One of the things that's hard for tuba players, actually it's hard for everyone, is that you need to sell the concept of time when you are playing long notes. It's hard."

—David Zerkel

Whether you are taking an audition, playing in a chamber ensemble or performing in a symphony orchestra, selling the concept of time when you are playing long notes is a golden opportunity to stand out in a good way.

Why is that?

Because most musicians suck at it.

I have played next to some people in quintets over the years who have perfectly fine time and yet could not sell the concept of time on a long note to save their lives because they are too passive.

The best chamber ensembles in the world can shut off the lights and play a slow and beautiful piece of music perfectly together with absolutely zero visual communication. It's hard as hell but the greats have a hard time not spoon-feeding to you when their current note is ending and when the next note begins.

Looking for a way to stand out in the final round of a symphony audition or in a chamber audition? Make it painfully clear where your long notes are coming from and where they are going to and sell the hell out of the time while simultaneously taking cues from and reacting to the players around you.

Do that successfully and you will put yourself on a very short list of people being considered for that job.

The Radio Test

Andrew Hitz

I recently sat in on a wonderful master class by Lance LaDuke on practicing and goal setting. He had one suggestion for the students at the University of Georgia that I thought I would pass along. It works for any age or ability level.

Turn on the radio to any song you know well and sing along. (Note: If you can't sing it, you can't play it!) Then turn the volume all the way down and keep singing. When you turn the volume back up check the following:

  1. Were you able to hold the pitch?
  2. Were you able to follow the correct form of the song?
  3. Did you keep good time?

This is a great and simple exercise that tests a whole lot of things. And the best part is that it's away from the horn so no part of the brain will be occupied by "horn operating."

Thanks, Lance!

The Meters: Monday YouTube Fix

Andrew Hitz

The Meters are a funk band from New Orleans. Their music is stripped down, not flashy, and just oozing with groove and character.

If you or a student of yours are looking for a way to work on groove, you can use this album as a tool.

Three Ways to Work on Groove:

  1. You can have them sing along with any of these tracks. Have them start with just one note and encourage them to make it "fit into the song." Be sure to point out that fewer notes are better than a lot of notes when starting out.
     
  2. Next have them play along with any of the tracks on just one note. It is pretty incredible how quickly even a young player will start to feel the concept of groove when they play along with an album like this.
     
  3. Finally, have them play some very basic hand percussion along with it. A shaker, claves, anything laying around the band room. You can also have them march around the band room in time with the music to feel the groove.

I've seen this kind of thing work wonders with students of all ages and ability levels.

Happy grooving!