With Valentine’s Day less than 48 hours away, you might be sweating bullets trying to come up with some way–any way–to impress that special someone.
Well, I’m going let you in on a little secret. There is nothing that wins someone over like MUSIC. Sure, you could always gift your sweetheart a violin. But it’s also prime time for serenading and the singing telegram. And this strange tradition of awkwardly showing up at someone’s door to sing songs (think Christmas carolers) is nothing new. It all began with the serenade.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SERENADE
Going back to prehistoric times, there is evidence that music existed. Like verbal language itself, music is similarly a natural and essential form of communication. The oldest known musical instruments include a collection from China even dating between 6,600 and 7,000 BC. Now those are some serious oldies.
If you think about it, almost any piece of music could be considered a serenade in the sense that all music is intended to be performed for an audience, whether it be a hall of concertgoers or simple an individual.
But when it comes to the traditional serenade, this form developed in Medieval times as a way for an eager gentleman to serenade his lady love of choice. This was typically done in the evening through a window (Romeo-and-Juliet style) with self-accompaniment on a lute or guitar.
These medieval serenades developed into an art form of its own kind. During the Baroque era the serenade evolved into a lyrical piece still sung and played outdoors, but for an an audience rather than a courted lady. By the Classical and Romantic eras the serenade further evolved into a form in concert literature for string ensembles and orchestras, like a light symphonic work with multiple movements and varying tempos, but free of heavy, dramatic orchestration. The serenade kept it’s lyrical, evening-song character.
AND IT’S STILL HAPPENING
Going back to the original serenade with that young man singing at the window, this form of the serenade is still performed today. There is no shortage of young men wooing girls on the guitar. One of my old roommates was even proposed to via song. Singing telegrams, caroling, Italian men singing from gondolas, mariachi band specials, and even Elvis impersonators serenading couples down the aisles of Vegas wedding chapels are today’s popular way to send messages of love.
Now, you can even serenade your loved ones online. For example, my friend Fresh Big Mouf will send his original song, “Secret Crush” to your very own secret crush as a digital message of love. There’s modern serenading at its finest.
So if you really want to win over the one you love, you may find that harmony is the key (signature) to the heart. Ditch the chocolates and warm up your vocal chords because now is the time to confess how you really feel. And while you’re ditching your chocolates, send them to me. I can help you out with that.
Instrument, bow, stand, music, pencil–that’s all you need when you sit down (or stand) to practice, right? Wrong. One of the most essential and useful tools for the wise, efficient practicer is this marvelous, magical machine: the metronome. The timekeeper. That thing that clicks.
As a string bassist who grew up classically trained, I was used to bending the tempo, slowing with ritardandos, stopping for fermatas and railroad tracks, slightly altering the tempo based on the lyricism of the piece, and sometimes completely throwing the beat out the window to play a cadenza.
When I went to music school in college, I was introduced to jazz, and I realized I was on a completely different playing field, playing a completely different ballgame. As a player used to hashing up melodic solos, playing jazz forced me back to the bassist’s primary role: keeping the beat. I remember my teacher telling me that a bassist who can’t keep time is useless. A musician might have perfect pitch and stellar chops, but without a sense of rhythm . . . well. Good luck.
Another time I was preparing for a blind audition and was given a tip to keep in mind. When you can’t see the adjudicators listening from behind a screen, you won’t see their faces, but you also won’t see their pencil lightly tapping on their knee checking the consistency of your tempo. Hopefully all panel judges aren’t that cruel, but my paranoia of that “one” judge made me reconsider my relationship with my metronome.
We needed to become best friends.
USING YOUR METRONOME
If you don’t have a metronome, now is the time to keep time. My personal favorites are metronomes with a dial (rather than digital metronomes) such as the Wittner MT60 Quartz. But anything that keeps steady time will do.
Here are a few things your metronome can help you do to become a better musician:
Understand tempo markings. I like metronomes with a dial that show you the numerical ranges for common tempo markings like largo, andante, moderato, presto, etc. The metronome can help you get the feel for the overall tempo of a passage or piece.
Set the tempo. Sometimes composers and conductors mark the music with a specific numerical tempo marking in addition to a general tempo marking (like “largo”). Identify the appropriate tempo for your piece of music. This doesn’t mean you’ll start practicing at that tempo. It’s just what you’re aiming for. (See number 5.)
Warm up. When you pull out your instrument, start with long, slow tones to warm up the rosin on your bow and smooth out your tone. Typically you’ll start with scales. Warming up with a metronome is like getting your musical heartbeat pumping again. Wake up the rhythm in your body! Ole!
Practice scales and arpeggios with different rhythmic patterns. After playing scales with whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes, change it up a bit, moving up the scale in triplets (one triplet per bow) or groups of sixteenths. Then practice arpeggios at a slow tempo, gradually turning up the speed.
Perfect difficult passages. For all music, whether you’re playing scales, arpeggios, orchestral excerpts, or solos, START SLOW. Only increase the speed on your metronome once a passage or lick is free of error. You can apply this principle to even a single measure, a group of notes, or even a single shift between two notes. Zone in on exactly what you’re tripping over and then conquer it with your metronome.
Subdivide. Your metronome beat doesn’t have to just be for a quarter note. Set it four times faster to click on the sixteenths, or three times faster for triplets. This will help you decipher tricky rhythmic passages, steady your dotted rhythms, and keep a steady beat overall.
Learn vibrato. A great way to get your hand and fingers comfortable with the physical motion of vibrato is the slowly roll your wrist, forearm, and/or fingers in time with a slow beat. This will develop a vibrato that vibrates consistently rather that shaking uncontrollably. (See “String Instrument Techniques: How to Learn Vibrato.”)
Sight read. After regularly using your metronome, you should get a good feel for basic tempo markings. Remembering that “60” means 1 beat per second, if you can get the feel for the timing of seconds, this can be your baseline reference. When you get a piece of music to sightread, always identify the expected tempo before taking off. (See “15 Tips to Successfully Sightread.”)
Prepare your accompanist. Whether you’re playing with a pianist, a duet partner, a small ensemble, or an orchestra, you can set the tempo specifically to what you’re comfortable with. It’s the worst when your accompanist rushes ahead of you at a pace that makes you stumble over your tricky passages. Even five extra beats per minute could throw you off if it’s faster than you’ve prepared. It’s also torture when you accompanist drags behind you. Give them an exact number so you can play in rhythmic harmony.
Conduct. If you conduct music, all of these principles apply to your ability to lead musicians in time. Just like I was saying how a bass player who can’t keep time is useless, a conductor who can’t keep time is even MORE useless! Conductors have to be the rock when it comes to keeping the beat. If you tend to rush or slow down, spend more time with your metronome.
Now, off you go to the practice room. Have a great TIME!
6. Classical music is relaxing.
Sometimes, when I’m washing dishes, I’ll turn on one of three things: talk radio, classical music, pop, or Broadway music. Interestingly enough, while I do find most pieces on the classical music playlist to be calming, I believe that’s a result of the host arranging a playlist that appeals to what a general audience perceives as what classical music should sound like. In other words, the repertoire heard on the radio is vastly different than a professional orchestra’s repertoire for the season.
Beyond what’s played on the radio, there is a world of complex, intense, cacophonous, dramatic, edgy, avant-garde, and even violently animated orchestral music that is by far NOT RELAXING. Works that come to mind include Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Ride of the Valkyries, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.
In fact, rather than feeling relaxed when I listen to these pieces, I find myself distracted from the tasks at hand, absorbed by the excitement and motion in these rich compositions. I have trouble treating most of the greatest masterpieces as “background” music that might relax me. These are the pieces that keep me riveted and on the edge of my seat.
7.Only educated intellectuals can understand and enjoy classical music.
There is some truth to this point in the sense that those who have studied music theory, history, form, and performance have a deeper understanding of classical music as a result of increased knowledge about classical compositions. But knowing where a piece was composed, in which key it’s written, from which musical era it originated, which opus number it is, or even who composed it doesn’t necessarily influence how enjoyable a piece may be to an audience member–educated or not.
In fact, sometimes the intense study of music–the probing and picking at it–can take the magic out of it. Beating a beautiful piece of music to death in the practice room can sometimes lead a performer from loving it to hating it in no time. I know plenty of professional performers who loathe and mock pieces like Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Handel’s Messiah just because they’ve played them too many times and find them boring.
Sometimes it’s those who are not educated in the field of music who have the greatest appreciation for it. To them it is some kind of mysterious magic; how can someone take something as static as a wooden instrument and make it sing and speak in such a moving way?
On that note, educated and studied musical scholars can often be the most critical of listeners, hearing the mistakes in performance and poor composition of harmonically challenged pieces. While being a learned musician may give you a deeper understanding of music, often it is the innocent or even ignorant who understand the true and deeper purpose and meaning of the music.
Composers did not write music for intellectuals only, but for the masses, for all people. Cooks don’t just cook for cooks, but for people to eat who will enjoy it whether or not they know the methods and techniques employed.
8. Listening to classical music will help you fall asleep.
Something that fascinates me is that massage therapists typically don’t use classical music as background music during a massage. Instead, there’s an entire genre of ethereal “massage music”–it’s like there’s a whole industry revolving around this dreamy, synthesized stuff. Okay, this is going to sound snobby, but because I’ve found typical massage music to be almost irritating, I’ve actually brung CDs of my own favorite, calming classical pieces to play that will edify rather than annoy me.
This statement though, that classical music will help you fall asleep, refers back to point number four in my previous post: all classical music sounds the same. I actually think there are very soothing and beautiful compositions and lullabies to which listening to would be far more effective than counting sheep. But it’s inaccurate to assume that all classical music creates this effect.
However, you might have to argue this point with that guy who always snores through every symphony concert you attend.
9. Only people who play classical music actually listen to it.
People who play orchestral instruments and music definitely tend to listen to more classical music than those who do not. Many people who don’t play classical music don’t listen to it because perhaps they have never even been exposed to it.
Exposure to orchestral music, then, is usually all it takes for one to develop an appreciation and love for the music. In my previous point (number eight), I established that one does not need to be trained or educated in the field of music to understand or enjoy it. I have developed a greater respect for people who don’t play classical music who listen to it and attend concerts because I appreciate their devotion and interest.
As a performer, if only players of classical music attended my performance, I would have a very small audience. I am so grateful for those who attend and listen to performances who have no musical background; these are those who are often most edified, impressed, and moved by the truly awesome power of refined music.
10. All classical music originates in Europe.
Most of time time the mention of classical music conjures up images of pink-cheeked men in powdered wigs and coats with shiny buttons. Okay. So it is true that Western classical music originated (note: past tense) in Europe. Western music notation with lines on a staff and notes written with rhythmic symbols were established in Europe in the 16th century.
What is amazing since the industrial and digital revolutions is that Western classical music began to spread across the globe not only on record, but in theory and compositional textbooks. In other words, the use of the musical staff and Western music theory became worldwide standards.
BUT what we can’t overlook is the entire genre of Middle Eastern and Eastern classical music. This is rich stuff! Eastern classical music is notated differently and composed with unique instrumentation. I can’t even begin to list the names of Asian and Middle Eastern instruments.
Beyond Eastern music, there is classical music composed by international composers from every nation. I encourage you to seek out and listen to a wider variety of classical music; there is just too much culture to be absorbed and too little time!
So while I do believe that to enjoy classical music a basic understanding of it can improve both an appreciation and sense of fulfillment when listening or playing it, I also believe that an extensive knowledge is definitely not necessary. Classical music is for everyone.
So if you’re one who always opts for pop over classical, try giving the classics a chance! I GUARANTEE you’ll find something you’ll love.
Some strange kind of stigma has become associated with classical music, and I want to get to the bottom of it. It isn’t unusual for stereotypes about classical music and its listeners or performers to exist; after all, there are similarly plenty of opinions out there about Twilight-loving teenagers, Bronies, Trekkies, band geeks, and people who wear sandals with socks.
It’s nothing new, then, to assume that all classical music and its listeners can be stuffed snugly in a box tied up with music-note-printed ribbon and mailed to Austria. But for a brief moment, I’d like to debunk some myths about classical music.
1. Classical music is for rich people.
I can see how this myth originated; in the 18th century the wealthy nobility were the patrons and commissioners of classical music, opera, and live performance. Watch a Jane Austen movie and you’ll see how playing the piano forte was as a mark of refinement.
Today, however, I will take this opportunity to inform you of some heartbreaking, but fairly well-known news: a great number of artists and musicians live in poverty. Even centuries ago they did. Music majors are among the ranks of graduates who receive the lowest starting salaries out of college. While the society at large believes in the great value of music and the arts, this is not proportionally reflected in the funding of the arts.
There definitely still remains the association of classical music with those who drink tea with their pinkies raised, or the nobility of the old aristocratic patrons. But, with the introduction of mass media and the internet, classical music is now accessible to listeners from all backgrounds around the globe.
2. Anyone who takes music lessons comes from a wealthy background.
Where people invest their money is a reflection of their values. Yes, weekly private lessons can add up as a monthly or annual expense, so are often quickly crossed off the budget when things are tight. And with the recent recession, as many families simplify their spending, it’s understandable that lessons often fall by the wayside.
However, there are so many affordable and even free opportunities to provide both children and adults with exposure to classical music. Many public schools offer orchestra programs with instruments students can use for free. Quality violins purchased online are more affordable and accessible than ever. Community centers and programs often sponsor free concerts, workshops, and even individual music lessons and scholarships for interested students.
In essence, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Be sure to take advantages of the wonderful resources that are available!
3. Music without lyrics is boring.
Yes, one might assume that because a piece of music isn’t accompanied by dramatic lyrics, fog machines, neon costumes, plastic surgery, and loud flashing lights that it must be boring. But classical musicians will tell you just the opposite.
While pop and folk music are often written with the same three chords and simple rhymes, I would almost argue that because pop music is “boring” in it’s composition, it’s easier to listen to. (Note: I am in no way arguing that classical music is “better” than pop music; the two simply serve different purposes and audiences.)
Unlike most pop music, classical music is composed with the richest of harmonic variations, the widest array of instrumentation, multiple melodies in one piece, and an incredible range of motion, tempos, and dynamics within a single composition. I believe that this is the reason why classical concert-goers sit silently while viewing and listening to a live orchestra; there are so many nuances in the music requiring focus and concentration to absorb. This is the opposite of boring–in fact, it’s both captivating and stimulating for the mind!
4. All classical music sounds the same.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. [Utterly ridiculous? Anyone?] To say that all classical music sounds the same is like saying all Asians look the same. There is so much variation and personality provided by individuals within a culture and pieces within a genre of music. Listen to Stravinky’s Rite of Spring and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending to hear a vast contrast.
5. Classical music is great for atmospheric background music.
I recently had a horribly memorable experience sitting through extremely loud, staticy rendition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons being forced down my ear canal while waiting on hold. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think classical music sounds its best from the receiver of a telephone.
As far as other background music goes, I absolutely 100% support the use of live classical music performed incidentally at receptions, parties, and other gatherings. Likewise, some classical music is wonderfully appropriate to play over the speakers in a store or restaurant. But again, I reference point number four. With the wrong set list, you may have guests or customers nodding off in their seats or running for the doors as Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance by Samuel Barber blares down from above.
The debate continues. The tension increases. Individuals and societies pit themselves against each other over THE question, yes, that question: when is it too early to start listening to Christmas music?
Whether you crank up tinsel-tunes before Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, or sometime in July, one truth remains: music brings meaning to the holidays. Unlike any other holiday throughout the year, there is more music associated with the Christmas than any other holiday–even Easter. Not only that, but every nation around the world that celebrates Christmas does so with song.
So what could be more appropriate than to celebrate the holidays by pumping them full of melody? Here they are:
TEN WAYS TO SPICE UP THE SEASON WITH QUALITY TUNES
Give the gift of music. First things first. You know you’re sweating over your Christmas shopping list. But here’s a little secret: everyone loves music. Easy peasy. Wrap up your favorite CD, give an iTunes gift card, or tie a bow on the violin your child’s been bugging Santa about for years. Don’t forget the frosting on the fruitcake: sheet music and accessories!
Go caroling. Bundle up and don’t even worry about bringing music along if you don’t want to. Sing the standards you know: “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow,” “O, Christmas Tree,” and all your other favorites. Gather a group of friends and family to carol around the block or drive around the neighborhood to loved ones’ homes. Organize a group of musicians to play or sing carols at a nursing home. You’re sure to brighten someone’s day.
Organize a holiday recital. During the holidays, people are looking for excuses to get together. If you’re a private teacher, schedule a holiday recital for your students to play for their parents, friends, and other family. If you’re a solo performer or play in a quartet, organize a performance with some traditional tunes. Don’t forget to pull out the cookies and hot chocolate after the show!
Host a singalong. It’s especially fun if you have a piano. Make copies of Christmas songs and put them in binders. Invite a pianist to accompany and ask guests to bring a holiday treat to share: think peppermint bark, caramel corn, and gingerbread men. Now there’s something to sing about.
Light the Menorah. Learn and sing the three Chanukah blessings when lighting the menorah: l’hadlik neir, she-asah nisim, and she-hekhianu. And don’t forget to sing “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” when you pull out the top.
Hire a quartet. There’s nothing classier than a live quartet or small ensemble providing beautiful background (or foreground) noise at a holiday party. If you’ve never arranged for live performers at a gathering, ask around to find a good group of experienced players. Appreciative guests will be telling you all evening how much they love the entertainment.
Attend a concert. Holiday concerts are never few and far between. And school orchestra and choir concerts are only the beginning. Look through the paper or online to find out where and when you can attend. For some extra interactive fun, find a local “Messiah Sing-Along” to attend and rock out with Handel’s famous oratorio. Don’t forget to warm up those vocal chords before you go!
See The Nutcracker. What could be more classic? Enjoy taking part in a historical tradition by attending this popular ballet. Tchaikovsky’s famous, heart-warming melodies will definitely leave you feeling the spirit of Christmas.
Send a musical card. Come on, birthdays aren’t the only occasions worthy of the stationery sound chips. Distant family and friends will especially enjoy finding a tune in the mailbox to fill them with Christmas cheer.
Watch cartoons. Christmas brings out the kid in everyone, and there’s no better time to tune into classic holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Sing along with classic toon tunes like, “Christmastime is Here,” and “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch.”
It’s time to celebrate, and what better way to do it than with music? After all, that’s our specialty. Happy Holidays!
Playing music is more than just playing notes on a page. Simply playing the notes would be like saying words without expression, asking questions without the rising inflection at the end of the phrase, writing without punctuation, eating food without salt or spices, seeing the world without color . . . you get it. Creating beautiful music happens when you add flavorful touches and techniques:
That last one is hard to define for students and sometimes hard to teach. But when you understand the following classical music genres, you’ll know how to better shape a piece to represent the period in which it was written.
THE COMMON PRACTICE PERIOD
The phrase “classical music” usually refers to any music played by an orchestra or ensembles including stringed instruments, piano, or vocals that feel . . . old. Music written by dead people who wore powdered wigs. Music directed by some guy in coat tails holding a stick.
Much of the classical music you hear today on classical music radio, Pandora stations, and Spotify playlists comes from the Common Practice Period. The term “Common Practice Period” refers to the three centuries between roughly 1600 and 1910 when the techniques, ideas, and written language of Western European music as we know it today were standardized and systemized.
THE THREE CLASSICAL GENRES OF THE COMMON PRACTICE PERIOD
You’ve probably also heard the terms “Romantic” and “Baroque” and “Classical” as sub-genres of general classical music. Well, that’s confusing. How can there be a classical music sub-genre of classical music?
Understanding the genres of classical music becomes increasingly important as beginning students advance into more mature performers. To bring some light to the subject, let’s break it down. From “oldest to youngest,” here are the three subsets of classical music.
1. BAROQUE (1600-1750)
Definitive Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Other Baroque Composers: Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, George Frederic Handel, Henry Purcell
Defining Characteristics: Continuous bass line (basso continuo), use of harpsichord and pipe organ, introduction of written works such as cantatas and oratorios, smaller ensembles with limited or no wind and percussion parts
Performance Style: added embellishments and tremelos, little or no vibrato, trills starting on the higher note
2. CLASSICAL (1750-1820)
Definitive Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Other Classical Composers: Christoph Willibald Gluck, Carl Philipp Emanuel (C.P.E.) Bach, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethover (early works)
Defining Characteristics: short melodies and phrases, obvious cadences, larger orchestra than Baroque, music in sonata form, eventual disuse of harpsichord and introduction of piano, quartet music
Performance Style: light and clear articulation, trills starting on the lower not, modest use of vibrato, more dynamic contrast
3. ROMANTIC (1820-1910)
Definitive Composers: Ludwig Van Beethoven (transitional later works), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johannes Brahms
Other Romantic Composers: Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Antonin Dvorak, Edward Elgar, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff
Defining Characteristics: reflective of human emotion and expression; a response to social and political movements; rich and song-like melodies; more modulation and key changes; larger orchestra with more winds, brass, and percussion; programme music and symphonic poems;
Performance Style: dramatic, expressive, wide vibrato, dramatic and high-contrast articulation and dynamics, rich texture, virtuosic playing, lyrical and song-like phrasing
Next time you pull out your sheet music, take a look at the composer’s name and their birth and death dates (usually included after the name). Identify the musical period from which your piece was performed, then try adding the stylistic characteristics relevant to that genre of music. Perhaps you’ll find yourself developing a greater appreciation and understanding of the historical value of music as well as the brilliance of these amazing composers. Enjoy taking your performance to a whole new level of musical maturity!
When I was younger, the word “recital” conjured up a distinct memory of only one thing: “Coda,” Episode 7 of Season 2 of The Wonder Years. I love this conversation between Kevin Arnold and his piano teacher, Mrs. Carples:
MRS. CARPLES: Have you thought about what you’d like to play for the recital this year?
KEVIN: I think I’m busy that night.
MRS. CARPLES: I haven’t told you what night yet.
KEVIN: I mean, um . . . I’m probably gonna be busy that night. See, I’m in junior high now,
and there’s a lot of demands for my time.
MRS. CARPLES: Last year’s excuse was much better. Did your uncle ever pull through?
Kevin ends up facing off with his musical arch nemesis, local piano prodigy Ronald Hirschmuller, in Mrs. Carples’ student piano recital. Both boys are playing Canon in D . . . and Kevin absolutely biffs it.
And so, after watching this I came to only one natural conclusion: recitals were created for one (and only one) purpose . . .
. . . Humiliation.
Fast forward about 15 years to the day I played my very first solo recital. I practiced and practiced for hours every day throughout the summer in preparation for my big showcase. When the day came, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I was unusually excited—and confident—to finally share a talent I’d developed over the course of my lifetime. I performed in an historic lecture hall with elegant balcony seating and soft lighting. I wore a bright yellow blouse and printed my programs on yellow paper to match. I wore a beaded flower pin in my hair. Family, friends, and strangers filled the hall, applauding as my pianist and I took the stage.
And then I performed.
Doesn’t it seem a strange thing to do, to practice hundreds of hours for one 50-minute performance? And it wasn’t even perfect—of course it wasn’t.
But, on the other hand, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. My first recital turned out to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life so far—something I’m so proud of. Not only did I feel great about it, but those who came were edified by the performance—even inspired to develop their own talents to share with others.
I left not remembering the mistakes, but the feeling of the instrument in my hands, the applause, the warm hug from my bass professor, the taste of the cinnamon rolls we ate afterwards, and the satisfaction of so many years of lessons and practice finally being brought to fruition.
Recitals aren’t meant to be a chore or just another chance to feel overwhelmed by stage fright. A recital is simply an opportunity to share. Yes, yes, recitals are a lot of work in the sense that they require diligent preparation. But there is nothing that will motivate you more to practice and develop yourself as a musician as an opportunity to perform. And, seriously, what’s the point of practicing in a closet and never performing? Music is meant to be heard.
HOW TO PLAN A RECITAL
There are two main types of recitals: studentrecitals and solorecitals.
A studentrecital is a recital organized for multiple performers who are students of the same teacher. A private teacher may have seasonal or annual recitals scheduled for students to perform what they’ve learned in their lessons for parents, friends, family, and other members of the music studio.
A solorecital is a recital by a single performer, usually with an accompanist. Solo recitals might include a duet or small ensemble piece. Joint recitals are sometimes organized with two soloists contributing to one program.
Whether you are a private teacher or solo performer planning a recital, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Here are some basic steps to follow when as you organize your program:
Set a date. Give yourself enough time to practice and prepare. Think months in advance instead of weeks. Consult with family members and friends to pick a date that’s convenient for your most important guests.
Find a venue. Because recitals are usually for smaller audiences in intimate settings, there are many excellent options as far as performing spaces go. House recitals are wonderfully cozy. Homes with vaulted ceilings usually have lovely acoustics. School and city auditoriums, cafes, libraries, community centers, and even outdoor parks and amphitheatres are great options. Call in advance to book a venue.
Choose your music and finalize your program. Try choosing a variety of pieces to round out your program with a variety of composers and pieces from various eras (Baroque, Romantic, Classical, Modern, etc), or pick a theme (Bach, autumn, arias, movie music). Try not to add pieces last minute, throwing off your practice schedule and leaving you with inconsistently prepared pieces. For beginning students, Suzuki pieces are an excellent choice for student recitals, giving young players confidence to play on stage from the start with wonderful standard tunes. Kennedy Violins now carries sheet music perfect for the occasion.
Find an accompanist. Choose someone experienced over an acquaintance or neighbor who just happens to play the piano. Remember that accompanists are usually paid per service.
Practice with a plan. Write out a schedule devoting equal time to each piece on your program. You don’t want your favorite piece to sound great while everything else doesn’t. Consider focusing on one piece per weekday while still running through each piece daily.
Keep up with lessons. Having a mentor is key when preparing. You need someone who can not only listen to you play, but give you pointers to perfect your performance.
Invite people. Invite anyone and everyone! You can have small recitals for family members or open it up to the general public–whatever you want to do! Recitals are excellent opportunities for community members and loved ones to get together.
Print programs. Keep the program simple. Take a look at program examples online for ideas. Include the title of each piece with the composers name. You could also include the composer’s birth and death dates, a bio about yourself and/or accompanist, and the names of each performer in the recital for group, joint, or student recitals.
Arrange for audio/video recording. For student recitals especially, parents love a good video of their child performing. For professional recitals or to record pieces you’re like to submit as audition sample recordings, find quality equipment and possibly a sound engineer to record for you.
Consider refreshments. Assign a friend or family member to take care of this for you so you don’t have to worry about it the day of the performance. A little munch and mingle after a recital is a great opportunity to receive positive feedback and plenty of hugs from all your fans.
Decide what to wear. Choose something comfortable and cool. Practice in your outfit before hand to make sure you’re not restricted or uncomfortable while playing.
If possible, practice in the venue. Test out the acoustics and balance with your accompanist.
Have a dress rehearsal. Be sure to play through your entire program withoutstopping at least a few times on your own and at least once with your accompanist. If you can, have your teacher present for your dress rehearsal to give you any last pointers to prepare for the big day.
Perform. Don’t stress about each and every difficult passage–just go for it! Let loose and do your best! Put in everything you’ve got and relish your moment in the spotlight. Performances like this don’t happen every day!
At Kennedy Violins, we want you to succeed as a performer whether you’d a first-time player or a seasoned professional. 99% of musicians at all skill levels participate in an ensemble: playing with other people. Whether you’re in an orchestra for the first time or you’re an experienced orchestral performer, you’ll soon notice that there are some unwritten “rules” pertaining to your involvement and behavior during rehearsal. Conductors even have their own style and set of expectations for the musicians under their direction.
It’s understandable if you feel a little nervous when performing with a new ensemble for the first time. Too bad no one will hand you a copy of Rehearsal Etiquette for Dummies. So if you’re wondering what to do and how to act in rehearsal, here are a few tips to keep you in the know.
Arrive early—at least 15 minutes early, or with enough time to both get your instrument out and warm up. There is nothing more awkward than shuffling through a crowd of seated musicians in the middle of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn. If you are late (it happens), try to avoid taking your seat while the musicians are playing; if you can, wait for an appropriate break in the action to slip in.
Come prepared. This means two things:
1) Come having thoroughly practiced your music. Nothing is more frustrating to conductors than to waste time rehearsing passages that the orchestra members didn’t practice ahead of time.
2) Before you head to rehearsal, double check that you have your music, instrument, bow, rosin, reeds, and any necessary accessories. Be sure to note whether or not you need to bring your own stand to rehearsal or you’ll be scrambling without one. You might consider keeping a wire stand in your car (like a spare tire) just in case!
Bring a pencil. This one gets its own paragraph. Attending rehearsal without a pencil is like sitting through a university lecture without a taking notes. Even if you think you’ll be able to remember every direction the conductor gives, every dynamic change, every cut, and every ritardando, really, you probably won’t. Keep a couple pencils in your instrument case so they’re always on hand.
Don’t under- or over-mark the music. Certainly write down bowings and musical directions as instructed. But don’t ruin the sheet music by circling every last key change, accidental, and dynamic marking until your music is black with pencil. And if you’re sharing a stand, especially avoid slathering the music with your personal notes and fingerings; it’s unprofessional.
Be courteous to your colleagues. Position yourself so both you and your stand partner have enough arm and leg room and can see the music comfortably. Don’t be afraid to ask the people around or behind you if they can see the conductor or if you can move a little to give them more space.
Don’t tune loudly. Tune as softly as possible so the players around you can hear themselves as well as the tuning A.
Don’t chat. If you need to communicate something to your stand partner, do so inconspicuously and quietly. Save personal conversations for break time.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Approach your section leader during a break, or raise your hand with [appropriate] questions for the conductor for any clarifications.
Don’t tap your feet. The conductor is there to keep you in rhythm, and the tapping creates unnecessary noise.
If you’re sharing a stand, the inside player (or player further from the edge of the stage) turns the pages.
Pass down bowings or comments from the section leader. Don’t be the break in the chain.
Players on the outside (closest to the edge of the stage) play the top line of a divisi section while the inside player plays the bottom.
Leave your arrogance at home. Members of the orchestra are all equal; everyone is contributing. Don’t gloat if you have a solo, and don’t bust out personal solo concertos and performances pieces just to show off. Everyone will be more annoyed than impressed. Also, don’t practice another orchestra member’s solo to demonstrate that you can play it better.
If at all possible, don’t miss any rehearsals leading up to a concert. It is a sign of disrespect to both the conductor and your orchestra members if you’re prioritize getting your nails done over working as hard as everyone else in preparation for a performance. Be careful not to double book yourself.
If you’ve agreed to play a performance, don’t back out if you get another gig, even if it pays better. It’s bad form, and you may lose your opportunity to ever play with the initial ensemble again if the director deems you flaky.
Learn the art of the “hidden yawn.” Sometimes you just can’t avoid yawning, but you can hide it with a little creativity. Lean over to tie your shoe or pretend to scratch your nose to hide your gaping mouth. Don’t let the conductor catch you yawning. Ornery conductors may send you packing or never invite you back.
Treat your music with kindness. Most sheet music is rented or borrowed from a library. Only write markings lightly in pencil so the next player to use it doesn’t have to painfully scrub out markings with a massive rubber eraser. Try not to bend pages or tear them. Keep the music in a protective folder to keep it from getting crinkled in transit.
Don’t wear perfume or cologne. You’d be surprised by how many people are allergic or irritated by it.
TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. Enough said.
Stop when the conductor stops. If you keep playing, it’s a sign that you’re not paying attention. Also, don’t noodle around or practice while the conductor is talking. Personal practice and group rehearsal are two separate activities.
Don’t eat during rehearsal. Bottles of water with lids are okay.
Don’t question the conductor or treat him/her with disrespect. Trust in their artistic direction. Don’t argue with the conductor or you’ll likely find yourself packing up and sent on your way.
Don’t complain about where you sit. Even if you’ve had seating auditions and you think you can play better than other members in your section, graciously accept your position. Just because you sit in the back doesn’t mean you’re not a valuable player; in fact, being in the group to begin with is a privilege in itself. But don’t hesitate to practice your tail off in preparation for the next seating audition.
Lastly, enjoy the music! Don’t take rehearsal so seriously that you lose your connection with the piece or with your instrument. Playing music in an ensemble is a real treat; don’t forget that you’re taking part in a meaningful cultural tradition that will edify your audience.
We live in an interesting age, musically speaking. Through the avenue of the internet, so much is available to us in the way of recordings, videos, articles, pictures, etc, etc. From this sea of information, any aspiring musician with a computer can find tools and resources for online music lessons and often times for free.
Learning music online is vastly different than what teachers and players have been used to in generations before the world wide web making some wonder if online lessons are truly beneficial for budding musicians or if they just cause confusion and poor technique. Before investing any serious time in front of a computer screen, there are a few things to consider when it comes to music lessons.
When it comes to learning anything, I think the most important thing to consider is how you or your student learns. For instance, I am a kinesthetic learner. I learn best by doing or using my hands. Sitting around watching videos online, does help me as much a having a teacher guide me during a lesson and then practicing it on my own for several hours. Yet, I have a student who is a very visual learner and online videos are a great reference for the days in-between lessons. Likewise, I have a family member that can read a car manual and just build an engine in a weekend. I’m sure that if he wanted to, he could play the violin after a day of reading “How-To” blogs online.
If you decide that using online music lessons are something that would be helpful for you, the next thing you need to consider is where the information is coming from. The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of videos, articles, and blogs to choose from. The bad news is that pretty much anyone with a computer and 5 minutes of free time can post something. When searching for music lessons, it’s best to use media produced by a professional or teacher with years of experience. Generally, they will have tried and true methods to share that won’t lead you or your student astray. If you are unsure about the validity of something you found online, it’s best to double check with your teacher. Send them a link and have them check it out. If you are teaching yourself how to play, you can always check with other members in the music community. Contacting a local music store to see if they have come across something useful is a great place to find sound advice. You can also check with other players through online forums like Violinist.com or Fiddle Hangout.
If you aren’t sure where to start looking online, a great place to start is our blog. We are all professionals and teachers here, and we work hard to provide our readers with quality and useful educational articles that anyone can access. We also have a Video Library on our website. You can check it out here.
One of the trickiest, but most essential techniques to learn on a string instrument is the practice of vibrato.
What is Vibrato?
Vibrato is the act of actually altering the pitch of the string by rocking or vibrating your finger the pitch of the note through the physical movement of your fingers.
It’s an artistic effect, an embellishment that adds to the musicality, phrasing, and beauty of notes that might otherwise be played flatly and without character.
Using the Left Hand
Vibrato is as essential to phrasing and musicality as dynamics and articulation with the bow. But unlike the nuances of volume and texture created with the bow in the right hand, vibrato is a unique expression performed with the left hand. For those of us who are right handed, it may seem challenging to train your left hand to do such minute and intricate movements, but with dedicated practice, it will eventually feel so natural you’ll hardly realize you’ve conquered the technique.
The Mechanics of Vibrato
The mechanics of vibrato are slightly different on violins and violas versus cellos and basses because of the angle of the instrument in relation to your body. Cellos and basses are played in an upright position, with the endpins towards the ground and vibrato performed by rocking the forearm and fingers on the strong. Violins and violas are played with the violin perpendicular to the body, in a horizontal position somewhat parallel to the ground with vibrato played with a motion centered in the wrist.
When to Learn Vibrato
Learning vibrato isn’t recommended until you are consistent and confident with your left hand positioning and finger placement first. Ideally, you have learned to play in tune without tapes or guides on your fingerboard. Your muscle memory (in terms of the proper shape of your hand and where your fingers contact the strings) is precise.
Your “Vibrato Mentor”
If you don’t have a private teacher or mentor working with you on your technique, now is the time to “consult” with an experienced player. With these fundamental techniques, like a proper bow hold and vibrato, learning how to do it correctly from the start is so important! Bad habits, especially when it comes to playing a string instrument, are extremely hard to break if initially learned improperly.
Sometimes students learn vibrato and bow holds in school orchestra programs without working one-on-one with a teacher. That one-on-one attention is invaluable with these more difficult and artistic techniques. Be sure to get that individual attention in this learning process.
Tips to Learn Vibrato
Here are a few tips when learning vibrato, whether on the cello or the bass:
Find an experienced teacher to be your “vibrato mentor.”
Relax your hand and arms. Playing with tense muscles will undermine your technique.
Begin practicing vibrato without the bow, simply moving your wrist (on violin/viola) or rotating your forearm (on cello/bass) in a rocking motion on the string.
Practice that rocking motion very slowly, even with a metronome, from slower to faster speeds until the motion is comfortable. Listen for the pitch to bend, actually changing in frequency.
Vibrato is not a “shaking” motion; i.e. don’t shake the life out of your instrument trying to vibrato. The instrument itself shouldn’t move, shake, vibrate, or respond to this movement of your fingers. The instrument will remain still as you rock your fingers on the fingerboard, somewhat like a wheel rolling back and forth on a flat surface.
Once you feel comfortable with the motion itself, add the bow. Practice first with long tones, drawing the bow from frog to tip and spending time with each finger: first, second, third, and fourth.
Using vibrato with your left hand while bowing with the right feels something like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. Don’t get frustrated as you practice until the motion in your left hand, wrist, and arm is comfortable! Learning vibrato takes patience and time.
Once you feel confident playing with each of your fingers, try out your vibrato with a slow song with more long tones, like a Largo of some sort.
Now you’re ready to use your vibrato for phrasing throughout a piece. Try varying the speed of your vibrato or starting with a straight tone and adding vibrato to the note.
Remember that vibrato isn’t necessary on every note. Use vibrato with discretion.
Baroque pieces, such as works by J.S. Bach, are typically played with very little or no vibrato at all.
Romantic pieces, such as works by Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky, are typically played with lots of dramatic, wide vibrato,
Good luck! Remember, patience, patience, patience while you practice, practice, practice. Before you know it, what felt like an awkward, impossible technique will soon become second nature. You can do it!