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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: performance tips

Sam Pilafian on the Importance of Pushing Limits in the Practice Room

Andrew Hitz

"If we over-train via the literature like method and etude books, we're going to know more than we need to know in order to be able to cover the parts that are put in front of us."
-Sam Pilafian

The above quote was taken from Sam's fantastic interview in A Band Director's Guide to Everything Tuba: A Collection of Interviews with the Experts.  It is a good reminder to us all that we have to encounter everything we'd ever need to do on stage (and then some!) in the practice room in order to be truly prepared.

The best bands perform full run throughs of pieces and entire programs when they are mentally and physically exhausted, yet hold themselves to the same high standards.  The people most prepared to win an audition have played the excerpts during their preparations in every possible order including the worst ones for their chops.

Anyone who makes performing look easy has a secret.  It is easy compared to what they made themselves do in the practice room.

Using Vibrato as a Crutch

Andrew Hitz

"Be able to play a love song with and without vibrato." -Arnold Jacobs (via @JacobsQuotes)

Vibrato is one of the best tools we have at our disposal as musical storytellers, but it can frequently be either overused or predictable.  As Mr. Jacobs stated above, it is very important to be able to play something like a love song without any vibrato at all.

A great exercise is to record a love song or melody with the vibrato, then without.  If you have the ability to make the second version just as convincing as the first, you will have gone a long way towards conveying a clear story to your audience once you add it back into the equation.

Be sure to use vibrato as an enhancement, not as a music crutch.

(A fantastic performance a year ago by Harry Watters inspired me to write this blog post with lots of thoughts on vibrato.)

Izabella Guarding the House and Tuba © 2014 Andrew Hitz

Jeff Nelsen Master Class Quotes from George Mason University

Andrew Hitz

Jeff Nelsen is simply put one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever been around in my life.  His always positive attitude is both genuine and predictable.  And he is an absolutely phenomenal horn player.  His website,, is a wonderful resource for any musician.  We were honored to have Jeff play one of the horn books for the Boston Brass recording of the Stan Kenton Christmas Carols.  He is a very special player, teacher, and person. Jeff was just in Washington DC playing 2nd horn to his dear friend and mentor Marty Hackleman in the National Symphony Orchestra.  I believe my good friend Tom Cupples, 2nd trumpet in the NSO, summed up Jeff the best after a performance of Ein Heldenleben: “Jeff is amazing. Just being in the same room as him makes me a better musician.”

We were very fortunate to have Jeff come to George Mason and give a master class about performance and life in general.  I learned a ton from the class and have used many of the quotes below in my lessons already.  As usual, I have highlighted the ones that really speak to me the most.  I will admit to having a difficult time not highlighting them all.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

PS Jeff is working on a book documenting his entire Fearless approach.  Keep your eyes on his website for details.

  • "Success not only comes to those who want it the most but those who want it the most often."
  • "There is a difference between simple and easy."
  • "Simplify things as much as possible and then work on them."
  • "You are engaged in performance when what you are doing matters."
  • "Fearless performance is not necessarily the lack of fear but the realization there are things more important than fear."
  • "(Shows picture of 16 month old) Have any of you ever been his age? When we are young we are afraid of good things like hot pots and traffic but we develop the rest along the way."
  • "You have to become a master variable controller."
  • "It's about isolating variables, changing one thing, and asking was that better?"
  • "The only physical difference between practice and performance is the actual walk on stage."
  • "The first mental difference is choosing 'this time means more.'”
  • His teacher: "There are no bad days. There are only days where to takes greater effort to play your best."
  • "If you approach every performance with your best, you don't leave room to try better."
  • "Most people don't aim too high and miss. Most people aim to low and hit."
  • "We can practice walking onstage."
  • "Saying 'On stage you must play your best' - problem is that making sure implies you might not."
  • "You can't control perception, you can only control presentation."
  • "In the sacred arena of the performance place, get over it. It's too late to control it."
  • "We're responsible any time we get nervous."
  • "No one can make me feel anything without my consent."
  • "We learn fear."
  • "If we can learn fear, we can learn love-full performance."
  • "Our level of nerves is inversely proportionate to our level of preparation."
  • "Make what you are doing the only thing that matters."
  • "There are three things that your audience and an audition panel are looking for: mastery, meaning, and autonomy."
  • "An audition committee is checking to see if your rhythm is autonomous."
  • "TV is getting great. We have to give the audience an experience."
  • "Don't call it a warm up. Make a great routine that touches what you need to do and the bonus is that you're warmed up."
  • "Musician is product. Technician is process."
  • "We're really trying to learn how to transcend the technician."
  • "I've missed 100% of the notes I've told myself not to miss."
  • "Make it about the solution. It's not about what not to do."
  • "Assign yourself practicing work for the next day."
  • "If you can't sleep, get up and write down what you can't sleep about."
  • "Tell your story to your audience."
  • "On a scale of 1-10 how much music did you just make with a 1 being regurgitating all the ink on the page? If it's a 6...OK, out of that 6 out of 10 how much of that did you get to the audience?"
  • "You should listen to your performance through the ears of your audience."
  • "Don't ask. Tell."
  • "The great performers of the world walk on stage and say 'I think this.'”
  • "Walk on stage to be seen."
  • “You are far too smart to be the only thing standing in your way.” - Jennifer Freeman
  • "In the 10 second walk on stage there's not much of a chance to make things better but there are lots of chances to make things worse."
  • "Every phrase is the only phrase."
  • His Mom: "If you're listening and the audience is listening, who's singing? - Critique later."
  • "Phil Meyers says that he went into his first few auditions trying to hide his weaknesses and it didn't work out. Then he tried to show them his strengths."
  • Phil: “I don't go out there trying to sound my best. I go out there trying to sound like me.”
  • "100% positive means taking the 'I liked' out of 'I liked how I played bar 6 well.'"
  • "Must be 100% responsible for how you play as well."
  • "If you make excuses, you make the performance space safe for failure."
  • "Everything, unless it hits you in the head, can not affect you unless you let it."
  • "You're right. There are people judging you and there are things to lose. You're right. Unless you want to do your best. Then you are wrong."
  • "Competing lowers your goal. Just try to be the absolute best you can be."
  • “If you do not have a website, you are invisible.” - David Cutler
  • "Choosing to doubt and choosing to fear will get in your way. And it is a choice."
  • "The word execute is a big part of performance."
  • "I'm happy because I think I am."