We are always thrilled to receive great news from members of the Kennedy Violins family all over the world. Congratulations to seven-year-old Leah Kramaric from Zagreb, Croatia, who recently won first prize in the regional Croatian competition playing on a Louis Carpini G2 Violin from Kennedy Violins! Leah is now qualified for the national competition, the largest in Croatia.
The Kramaric family loves Leah’s 1/2-size Carpini G2 purchased from Kennedy Violins last year. According to Leah’s father, Damir, Leah “loves the instrument and demands (nothing less, mind you) to purchase a 3/4-size Louis Carpini G2 from you again. Well, I guess that’s it then. How can you argue against that? You’ll be hearing from us pretty soon again. Thank you to all of you at Kennedy Violins who put in good work for the benefit of your customers.”
Improvising? That sounds scary! Making up the music as you go? But where’s the sheet music? Who even improvises anyway?
As a classical violinist, these were all questions I asked myself when confronted with the thought of improvising. I never was taught to improvise. As classical musicians, we always have our sheet music to guide us, to show us the direction we should go. Going forward into the musical realm without sheet music seems like going on a roadtrip without a map. Where do I go?
Surprisingly, I’ve discovered, improving is all around us as musicians. Even classical musicians improvise, too! There are so many musical genres to experiment with which do teach you to improvise and foster those creative juices that make new music happen. From blues jams to Irish sessiuns, from jazz club improvs to bluegrass jam outs, there are endless outlets for practicing improvisation. Without sheet music, how do we know what to play? Especially when improvising with other musicians.
Here are a few pointers when learning to improvise:
The most important thing to know is what key you are playing in. It can sound great when everyone is playing something completely different, but they must be playing their own unique parts in the same key for it to work.
Think of the scale, then play itterations of the scale. I like to play the scale aloud before trying any kind of improvising so I really get the notes in my ear and fingers. Then try playing the scale up and down, jumping around with different arpeggios, and always keeping the tonic, dominant and 7th in mind.
Take turns. Most improv music works best when everyone takes turns being the melody. When it’s not your turn at the melody be sure to keep the energy up. Long notes mixed with off beat rhythms are easy on the tonic or dominant.
Practice some cool licks at home. Most improv artists aren’t actually making it up as they go. Usually, they have practiced some licks which they made up at home and can transcribe them into any key to play while performing in an improvising scenario.
Perfection is not the point. Improvising teaches you to be adaptable. Adapting to your current musical situation makes you a stronger player and shows you that the imperfections are what make improvising so thrilling.
Don’t be afraid! Although you can feel put on the spot while improvising, recognize that everyone else recognizes that you are improvising. It is not meant to be perfect. Once you get used to improvising, you will begin to feel the powerful energy in making up music with your peers as you go.
Like anything, improvising gets better the more you do it. I promise you, if you try you, will find that creating your own music with others in the moment is one of the best adventures you can embark upon. The moment when you close your eyes and listen to yourself creating music together, making it up as you go, and you hear that it sounds beautiful and harmonious, you will find pride in yourself like never before. So, go ahead, make up the directions to your next adventure and forget the map at home!
**Check back soon for more in depth imrpovising tools and tips!
We have a few Game of Thrones fans in our office, and we’re pretty excited about the Season 4 premiere — which is on RIGHT NOW! Because we’re so psyched, the Kennedy Violins’ staff presents a special performance of the Game of Thrones theme music. Enjoy!
I’m not a fan of sports metaphors, so you’ll have to excuse this extremely obvious comparison. But I started running recently and spent the weekend seriously contemplating the concept of the Marathon. And during that contemplation, I was surprised to find myself simultaneously reflecting on my experience preparing for my first recital years ago.
After crossing the finish line at the Scarecrow Scamper 5K this Saturday, I was surprised to feel like I could keep running; I have reached some level of endurance that I’ve never experienced in my life. As I wandered over to the water table to grab a drink and a complimentary apple, I ran into a friend who’d also run the 5K. “You should run with us!” she said, referring to “us” as a group of women who meet at ungodly hours of the morning with the goal of running an actual 26.2 in the spring.
This led to a conversation about the Marathon concept itself. I asked her if she’d done one before and what it felt like. I started doing a mental inventory of friends and acquaintances of mine who have completely the feat. And then I started thinking, well, if so-and-so can do it, could I? If 60-year-olds can do it, could I? If the average Joe can do it, could I?
Then I started feeling a sense of dread. If I possibly could do it—if my body were really strong enough and capable of developing the strength and endurance necessary—does it mean that I should do it? I was feeling a very specific sense of fear that I’ve felt before: the fear of one’s own potential.
Recognizing one’s potential is a precursor to taking action. Recognizing potential leads to developing a sense of confidence, courage, and faith that you can accomplish something you have never done before.
“Well, think about it, and if you want to, come join us on Tuesday morning. I’ll send you the schedule. And there’s no pressure to do the marathon—you could just train with us and see how you feel.”
I got an email with the following schedule:
I remember drawing up a similar schedule when preparing for my first recital. It had a countdown of weeks to the final performance, lessons with my private teacher and accompanist booked on the calendar, a breakdown of what to practice on certain days, and a smaller breakdown of how many hours or minutes to spend on each piece during each of those practice sessions. I knew that without that steady, regular practice, I’d likely crash and burn on performance day. NOTHING can replace a consistent effort when it comes to preparing for a performance, especially when the music is hard and the music is new.
Music takes time to learn. You get to know the notes on the page, the bowings, the fingerings. You start slowly developing muscle memory as your fingers and arms internally program patterns, shifts, and connections. As a bass player, I know that playing my instrument actually requires substantial muscle strength. If I haven’t played in a while my hand and thumb muscles cramp up. My shoulders ache. My back is sore. My triceps feel the weight of the bow. It’s amazing how even exercising outside of playing the bass can help my playing. Yoga does wonders for my back and shoulders, both of which support my form when I play my instrument.
This morning I actually went to run for the first time with the “Marathon Moms,” as I’ll refer to them. I was both encouraged and discouraged. Encouraged that I ran another 5K in distance feeling like I could keep running when I got home, but discouraged by my slow speed and the fact that I’d never run more than 4 miles—how could I do 26.2?
I’m not sure. But I’ll keep training and we’ll just see what happens.
I think that last sentiment is an attitude that many musicians also feel. Like, “Yes, I can play, and I can play pretty well. I’ll keep practicing and keep playing. Maybe someday I’ll play a real formal recital—maybe someday. But for now I’ll learn a few pieces and we’ll see what happens.”
We’ll see what happens. What does that even mean? Who sees what happens? You? The people around you?
I have an opinion—and I’d love your thoughts on this—but I feel that musicians have some obligation to perform for other people. Practice done in secret is great; there are definitely significant benefits to any individual involvement in music. It’s good for the brain, it can be relaxing, it’s an enjoyable experience. What do you think? At what point should (or is “should” the wrong word here?) a musician take their playing ability out of the practice room and into the performance sphere? Is it selfish to keep your talent and musical abilities to yourself?
I’m not really sure.
When I chatted with my husband about the idea of training for the Marathon, he made an interesting comment. “You’d have to be obsessed,” he said. “People who do marathons are kind of obsessive.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Like, I play the bass, but I’m not necessarily obsessed with the bass. I did a recital and, yeah, it required a lot of diligent practice, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with the idea.” He gave made a face that said, “Okay, I can see that.”
“But,” I said, “I do know a lot of bass players who are TOTALLY obsessed—like all they do is think about the bass and play the bass and talk about the bass and live to practice. But you don’t have to be obsessed like that to give a recital.”
“But if you trained for an actual marathon, it would take a lot of time. Like, it’d be a pretty big time commitment.”
And he’s absolutely right. Not just time to run, but time to think about it. Time to mentally be absorbed by the challenge.
So there you have it. There are so many similarities between the Recital and the Marathon. Both require
a plan of attack
preparation that begins far in advance
a scheduled race/performance day
dedication to complete the task
TIME to develop strength, endurance, and capability
Constantly renewed motivation to pull your instrument out of the case/running shoes out of the closet
[ideally] a huge group of fans to cheer you on!
It’s frightening to face your own potential. But if you never face it, never try, you’ll never know. You may be left with regrets. You may be left saying, “I could have done that,” because you never did it. You never opened the door to that possibility. You look back at that door and wonder what was behind it and if it’s still there.
So do you want it enough? Do you want it enough to [note obligatory Nike reference]
There have been points in my life when I’ve been the new kid in the musical town. “Hey, yeah, I play the bass. Yup. Call me.” It seems like it can take months or even years to find your niche in a music community, so one of the first things I’ve done in the past is network. (See our post, “How to Find Gigs: Musical Networking.”)
To start, it’s helpful look up all the local classical music organizations you can find online: symphonies, chamber orchestras, pit/opera orchestras, community music schools, violin shops, etc. Most have websites with contact emails and phone numbers and you can just go from there.
But in the process of looking for a musical group with which to play, I don’t know if I ever considered this [brilliant, perhaps?] idea entrepreneurial musicians use all the time, which is to START YOUR OWN GROUP.
What has me reflecting on this concept is recently watching some friends of mine come together to produce and perform their own musical (“The Taffetas”) to raise funds for a charity organization called Feed My Starving Children. Then I got an email from a violist wanting to organize a small chamber group to perform Christmas music.
I think most of my life I’ve been the passive musician waiting for someone to contact me about performing. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been the active musician creating the group with which to play. What a novel idea!
So if you’re sitting around with your instrument and all the talent you’ve developed thinking that opportunities to perform or gig for moolah are nowhere to be found, have you ever thought to create your own opportunity to perform? Have you ever thought to reach out to other musicians and create your own
Private teaching studio
Musical theater production
Monthly house concert series
Community music school
Music playgroup for children
Nursing home performing troupe
Music store (Take the example of Kennedy Violins founder, Joel Kennedy. What was once a simple vision has become an inspiring and influential resource for classical musicians.)
Maybe we should all take a break from practicing and actually PERFORM, right? Who knows what could happen if you become the one contacting musicians instead of standing by waiting to be contacted. Great things, I imagine.
What I like about playing my violin is that it is really a “social” instrument. I don’t consider myself a soloist, but I do enjoy making all different kinds of music at various levels with other people. I practice not only to improve my own abilities but also to contribute to the success of a group. It’s a pretty amazing way of communicating. Performing is fun, but it is still about getting together with friends and sharing music with people you may or may not know.
At Kennedy Violins, we often receive calls from customers who just received their new instrument and are looking for sheet music or other methods of getting started. We recommend that you take a look at sheetmusicplus.com. Sheet Music Plus offers all kinds of music from beginners’ books and DVD’s to the big classical concerto pieces to ensemble works. There are songs geared toward religious settings, holidays, ceremonies, movie soundtracks, pop and rock hits, and fiddle tunes.
With enough searching, you can even discover some websites that offer free sheet music. There is music available at all playing levels, and there are some pieces that are for small ensembles. It’s just a matter of clicking and printing. Here are a few examples:
Violin Sheet Music — This website is easy to use and has a variety of genres listed across the top. Some pieces even offer the piano accompaniment.
8notes.com — It is easy to pick songs to play based on playing level.
The Violin Site — Browse by composer and find other links to other sheet music sources.
And, using today’s technology, there are even YouTube videos that provide sheet music corresponding with sound.
Before you know it, you will be able to take that new violin, viola, or cello and become part of a quartet, a bluegrass group, a folk band, or whatever your heart desires. Getting involved in music is different than picking up a book to read. It means finding someone to share it with.