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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: music

Change: Better Too Early Than Too Late

Andrew Hitz

“Change almost never fails because it's too early. It almost always fails because it's too late.”― Seth Godin

This is true in music.  This is true in business.  This is true in life.

Change is uncomfortable.  Change is scary.  But rarely do we accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams without taking that leap into the unknown.

What aspect of your playing, teaching, career path or overall focus needs to be changed before it's too late?

Hong Kong Skyline © 2013 Andrew Hitz

Building a Solid Foundation

Andrew Hitz

It takes a really intelligent person to practice really slowly and say “this is what’s good for me”.

- Joe Alessi


Earlier this week I was the guest of Mike Parker at the Monumental Brass Quintet Tuba Boot Camp.  We led the kids through the first page of the Schlossberg book and it reminded me of the above quote by Joe.

Like anything else in life, playing an instrument well is predicated on a solid foundation of fundamentals.  Many young players, especially the good ones, gravitate towards practicing very difficult and complex music all of the time.  But in actuality, it is the many hours spent practicing the simple things like tone production in the middle register that have produced the finest players in the world throughout history.

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: Played for Every Professional Player That Passed Through Town (4 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Something I was taught at a very early age was to try and play for every single professional that came anywhere near my hometown.  Sometimes this was in master classes and other times this was in private lessons.  Performing in front of as many professionals as possible was immensely important in me gaining the confidence to play at my best in a wide a range of circumstances.

Master classes are the easiest place for a college student to gain access, even if only briefly, to a professional traveling through town.  It was my experience that a visiting artist could say the exact same thing that my teacher had been saying all along but in just a slightly different manner and it would make everything click in my mind.

I am always telling my students that all performing and teaching, both good and bad, counts as “data” that helps to mold me as a musician.  If I hear a concept put in a way that makes a lot of sense I am of course sure to share that with my students.  Likewise, if someone teaches something in a manner which doesn’t click with me or that I disagree with it only serves to strengthen my own point of view.  Keeping this in mind, any master class that I ever attend is worth my time.  Always.  And any great teacher will address exactly what you personally need to hear if they hear you play.

When I was a young student I was taught a great trick when someone was listening to multiple students play in a master class.  Always volunteer to play first.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, when conducting a master class it can be very difficult to keep track of time when working with students. If a teacher does not manage their time well the student playing at the beginning of the class will always get more time and not less time.  It is very difficult to stick to time slots as a teacher and the people playing at the end are always the ones that are affected.

Another equally important reason is that it is natural to be distracted and nervous until you get in front of the group to play.  You are going to retain very little information that is given to the players who play before you.  If you volunteer to play first, you can simply relax, take notes, and learn from all of the people that come after you.  Sometimes the information that is shared without you being on the hot seat can make the biggest impression.

I always raised my hand immediately in every single master class whether I felt like playing that day or not.  As a result, I played in every class, got at least as much time as everyone else that played, and was able to focus on the teaching and not myself for the remainder of the class.

Finally, it is great to be able to get a private lesson with someone passing through town.  Speaking from experience, my schedule rarely allows time to meet with people individually but there is a trick to increasing your chances of hearing a “yes” when asking for a lesson.

First of all, contact the person before they come to your town or school.  This has never been easier with email, twitter, facebook, etc.  If you can’t find them through any of those channels then simply ask your teacher if they might know their info.  It is a lot easier for me to schedule my day around giving a student a lesson if they contact me ahead of time.

Second, you should always offer to pay someone for their time.  Frequently, when a student asks a traveling professional for a lesson and offers to pay them they will teach them for free.  This is not always the case but it definitely sends the wrong message to not offer to pay someone for their time.  Even if you are very up front in stating that you have no money and understand that you wouldn’t expect them to be able to teach you, this will be received well.  It might not get you a lesson, but you will leave a good impression in a business where are impressions are imperative.

Setting Goals

Andrew Hitz

As with any pursuit, one of the most beneficial things a musician can do is to set goals. All musicians, regardless of their ability level, must constantly be evaluating themselves as players. The setting of goals is how even the very best of the best in the music business seem to be improving all the time at their craft.

The first week of my freshman year at Northwestern University our teacher, Rex Martin, made the entire studio write down our goals on a piece of paper. He had us separate them into three categories: short term, medium term, and long term. He told us that the more specific we were with what we wanted to accomplish, the easier it would be to formulate a plan to achieve those goals.

He encouraged us to redo this exercise every year for two reasons. First, we could check back on our previous list of goals to see if not only we achieved them but if it happened on the schedule we had laid out. Second, we could add new goals to our list as our abilities and desires within music changed.

Here is a breakdown of the three categories:

Short Term Goals:

These should be things that you can accomplish within days, weeks, or a few months. Examples could be memorizing an etude, recording a video of yourself and posting it on YouTube, or learning harmonic minor scales in thirds.

Medium Term Goals:

These should be goals that might take you anywhere from 6 months to a few years. If you are an undergraduate this might include which graduate school you want to attend. It also could be starting your own blog or website, playing in a summer festival, or increasing the speed of your double tonguing by 20 bpm.

Long Term Goals:

These should be things that you would hope to accomplish in three or more years. These could include being a tenured professor of tuba at Northwestern (the one goal Mr. Martin told us we weren’t allowed to have because he didn’t want us taking his job!), playing trumpet in the Boston Symphony, or taking my gig in Boston Brass. You should think really big for the long term goals because you will only ever achieve what you set out to achieve!

Everyone knows that making goals is important in every aspect of life. But if you can quantify those goals you will find an enormous benefit down the road. I encourage my students to set up a Google document detailing their goals that they can add to every year at the beginning of school. This is a great way to keep track of their progress and can be accessed from anywhere.


Organization=Productivity and Productivity=Eventual Success