Are You Ready?

We do a concert with a hired orchestra every spring at my church. A few years ago we did Elijah.   My son was singing the “boy” solo.   We had just finished with our warm up and were waiting for the word to leave for the choir loft.   I had half an ear on the conversation between the soloists who were standing to my right. I was listening to see if my son joined in with the chatter.  He did not.

I believe it was the tenor who asked the bass, “Jeffrey, are you ready yet?”  Dr. Jeffrey Snider is a large bear of a man who has a huge voice.   He replied, in his resonant bass soloist voice, “No, but it has never stopped me before.”  Everyone who heard it had a good chuckle.

During the concert, Dr. Snider certainly sounded like he was ready.   Maybe he was trying to be funny.   Maybe not, though.   I am not sure if we are totally “ready” to perform music.

I think it is more about being “prepared.”  I believe we more naturally understand preparedness in terms of degree.    Being prepared is not a yes or no thing.  It is possible to be more prepared and less prepared. Sometimes the music is more challenging.   Sometimes the are more people auditioning.  Sometimes less.    Even people who are very well prepared may not be perfectly ready.  But the more we practices (and practice right) the better we perform and the more our standards grow.  One high school student realized that the Freshman at his high school weren’t really getting worse every year.   He was getting better and was more able to hear smaller and smaller mistakes.  You will take your improved skill set out of the audition room and into the next adventure no matter how the audition plays out.

Musicians sometimes have performances or auditions that loom in importance.  You may have something important in the near future.   How prepared are you?  I would venture to say that a huge number of those who audition are far more prepared on audition day than they were when the first audition pieces were.  Far, far more prepared.  But given their improved musical sense most students auditioning do not think they are perfect yet.

Once upon a time one student walked our of his audition and self-proclaimed it “acceptable.”  Not awesome-super-good-amazing.  Not the best run ever.  But acceptable given his level of preparedness.   When the list was posted he was principal on his instrument in the all-state  orchestra.   It was a successful audition, even though it was not perfection.

So after all the practice is done and you are waiting to play it is most productive to mentally review what you are doing and go for your personal best.  Your personal best as well as your personal average are going to be much higher since you have practiced.   Are you “ready”?  Maybe not, but it has never stopped anyone.   The practice time is over.  You are as prepared as you are.  Go perform!  Make music.  Go for tone.  Even mistakes sound better with good tone.    Keep your head in the game.  If something happens like, say, a mistake, for get it and keep going.  People actually make the gig after making actual mistakes.  If  their practice has increased their performance standards they will be more able to hear mistakes.   And so if you make a perceived mistake just go on and perform the next thing.   Keep your head in the moment of performing, concentrating on the moment and perhaps the near  future.

There is no room in the mental apparatus for reviewing the performance during the performance.   So perfomr and have fun and make as much music as you can.  There is another day after auditions.  But if you have prepared at all you are going to be a much better player for the next thing, whatever it is. Auditions are as much about learning as they are about the outcome.  If you learn from auditions and, yes, performances, you will continually hone your craft.

Ready or not, here it comes.   Go for it.

Advertisements

Practicing 101

woodshed
Taking it to the woodshed…..

We talk about a lot of things to do to bring your “A” Game to the audition room in my class at SWOSU Band camp. For those that have not been (and to remind those who have) here are some practice basics that might be helpful in the big final push for a performance, jury, or audition.

1.  Work on fundamental issues in your warm up.  Five to fifteen minutes spent working on tone production, fundamental positions, posture, breathing, articulation – both correct technique and speed, can work wonders.  Brass players need to work flexibility studies.  Everyone needs scales, at least some every day..  .   I always had to work a lot on tone and flexibility because those were my biggest problems.  Others might have to work scales and other figure speed exercises more.   A few minutes concentrating on your “worst thing” in warm up can pay off through the entire practice session.    If you are not sure what your worst thing is, ask your teacher.  Keep the warmup period short unless there is a big issue that is holding you back.

2. Spend the most time on the worst places. This is not something anyone does naturally.  We like to sound good and we want anyone hearing us practice to hear good things.  Get pass all that soon! Slow painstaking practices on the measures or parts of measures (sometimes just three notes-sometimes just two back and forth-sometimes the attack/tuning/tone quality for one note) that are the most pesky will pay off. Sometimes intentional, focused, accurate* practice at a very slow speed will actually cause it to be better the next time you run the piece at a much faster speed. Use a metronome. Speed up gradually. If you reach a daily tempo plateau then back down to your accurate speed, play it really well at that speed, and let your brain process. (It takes the brain some time to process your practice each day. Remember to get some rest.)

3. Spend some time running longer passages focusing on tone and musical expression.  Some suggest that you go back and forth between small practice and large.  I think this is a good idea.  Since most auditions are cuts, pick some cuts and practice playing them without stopping. You can to this with an entire etude etc. Since there are cuts in all-state auditions in Oklahoma you should practice cuts. When you are doing this you keep going no matter what as you will in an audition. It would be silly to stop after a mistake, work on it for a bit, and then take up playing the piece from there. So when you are practicing a run-through of piece you should do it audition style. People who make all-state make some mistakes. So you need to practice staying on task when there is a mistake. If you run a section several times you will have a better idea of which places need the practice. So go back and circle the places you missed and practice them separately. Again,alternating between micro sections and macro runs can be highly effective.

There is some more to this, but this is a good over view.

4. For Oklahoma All-State, there are specific scales and ranges in the audition. Remember to practice these scales. Band students need to remember to work the chromatic scale up to speed and not just the major scales. You can do micro practice on scales if you need to. but they usually come around faster than etudes.   Your state practices may vary outside Oklahoma.  The sooner you get this done the better.  You can review a lot of scales in a hurry after you know them.

5. At least once a day the week of the audition  practice an entire mock audition. Warm up. Leave your practice space. Stand outside the door and do calming breaths and focusing exercises if you know how.  (There is more about breathing on this blog if you do not know how.)   Re-enter and arrange your music on the stand. Pick and play scales for your instrument as required. Play cuts from the music with no stopping. (No talking or swearing!) Stand or sit – which ever is right for you. Imagine a judge asking you for each thing. Then leave the room. Forgive yourself for any mistakes. Next, go back in and review any issues this uncovers.

6.  This is actually a big deal:  You must get away from it all for awhile.  Get your practicing done.  Then spend some time with friends.  Walk the dog.   Read a good book.  Meditate. Sleep. Dance to the Wicked cast recording and sing along, especially with “Defying Gravity.” Whatever works for you. Your brain needs to process and store everything you processed.  The little IT guy in your brain may have to upgrade or add new wiring.   Give that little guy half a chance to use the information from your practice session to upgrade your neural circuits.

During the run, focus on the moment. I could list a million things to avoid, but I don’t want to give anyone ideas. If you are playing and you notice yourself not into the music just easily move from wherever you are back into the music. You can think about whatever you want after you leave the room.

You can also do mental practice of the audition any time and place. Riding the bus home or to a performance. Waiting for the teacher to answer questions from kids who are not in band or orchestra and never understand anything. Anywhere. Mental practice is a good thing. But practice a good audition that goes as intended.

*About “accurate”
Accurate means practice on getting everything right when you go slow. Everything.
Fingering
Rhythm
Intonation
Bowing/Articulation – Correct technique and musical attacks and releases.
Good tone (and everything involved in that) on EVERY note.
Posture
Position (of everything)
Make sure the instrument and everything about it (strings/reeds/valves- stuff like that) is in top shape.

If you develop good habits about these things when you go slow they will stay with you when you are playing faster and, ultimately, become part of your every day playing.