Tags: expression, metronome, tapping
Recently through YouTube and some musical newsgroup posts, I have noticed an alarming disregard for the value of practicing with a metronome. One such post said something to the effect of “tapping your foot is much better than using a mechanical source.” Another gave a very opinionated view that if one practices with a metronome, then they are disregarding the most important aspect of music: expression.
This blog is to help my students and any others who might be interested in refining their skills a s a musician. That being said, I fell that these posts about the “detriment” of using a metronome are quite alarming. Metronome practice, much like tuner practice, is an essential and beneficial process in which the musician refines their perception against something reliable and constant.
The first comment, that foot-tapping gives a better or “more human” source or that it is an “alternate method” is very misleading. Yes, after years of practice with a metronome, and in playing with groups, foot-tapping can offer a creative way to facilitate better rhythmic coordination and accuracy. However, it is simply that, a coordination exercise. It does not provide comparative synchronization practice needed to solidify the internal clock response necessary for group playing.
After mastering the basics with the metronome: pitch, tone, intonation, rhythm, dynamics and articulations, the student should then use the metronome as a calibration device against which to create expressive manipulations of the beat without sacrificing the groove of the piece. As an advanced player, you must be able to express contour, direction, phrasing, ritardando and accelerando within the confines of the groove to effectively captivate your audience.
Tags: transposing, transposition, viola, violin
The start to playing in all keys is simply to play in a few keys! Take a simple melody that you know very well…Mary Had a Little Lamb, or Twinkle Twinkle.
How do you transpose it to other keys?
The easiest way is by finger (rote). It requires very little adjustment on your part. Just start on a different string, but use the same fingering. As you get better at it, start identifying the key signature and the interval of the starting note.
For example, Twinkle starting on the A string starts on DO, which is the note “A,”, and is in the key of A, which has three sharps, F#, C#, and G#.
Twinkle starting on the D string starts on DO, which is the note “D,” and is in the key of D, which has two sharps, F# and C#.
Twinkle starting on the G string starts on DO, which is the note “G,” and is in the key of G, which has one sharps, F#.
Twinkle starting on the C string starts on DO, which is the note “C,” and is in the key of C, which has no sharps or flats.
Once you can do this with Little Lamb and Twinkle, Try “Bingo,” “Amazing Grace,” “Star Spangled Banner” and Brahms “Lullaby. In our next article, we’ll discuss transposing by playing on a different starting finger…
PracticingAll students should practice on a regular basis. Practice is essential to having fun learning music! The more you practice, the more fun you will have. Parents can help with this in several ways:
1. Provide a Clean, Well-lit, comfortably heated/cooled room with a sturdy metal music stand, chromatic tuner, and loud, reliable metronome and a CD player with speakers. This room should be completely private from the rest of the family.
2. Ensure that your son/daughter compiles a 3 ring notebook with weekly assignments, sheet music, exercises, repertoire and practice CDs to minimize time spent “looking for stuff.”
3. Help your son/daughter to establish a consistent practice time which does not conflict with other family obligations, sleeping times, dinner, chores, etc.
3. Ensure that all family members are aware of the student’s “practice times” so that the practice session is uninterrupted. (Timesheet on door, set time each day, specific room, etc.)
4. Encourage and reward diligent and consistent practice (inspirational music concert DVDs, trips to the record store, fun sheet music and inspiring wall decorations, etc).
A student recently asked me, “What do you practice?” The short answer is…
1. 30 minutes of ear-training
I use “good-ear.com” on the internet, and a $25 software program called “Ear Power” which downloads fast, even if you have dial-up. Usually I do this in the morning all at once, or I do it in 10-minute blocks in between playing for a break. I quiz pitches, melodies, intervals, chords, chord progressions, and rhythms.
2. Random Fun Practice
Practice is fun? Sure! If you do whatever you want. This is usually how I get myself to start playing. I think the hardest part of practicing is actually just starting to do it, and once you’ve done it, to do it daily! And yes, it’s still an effort after 20 years of playing! So I get “in the mood” or “in the zone” by just putting the bow on the string and playing ANYTHING. Sometimes it’s a hip-hop riff I heard on the radio, or a fiddle tune I heard Alasdair Fraser play, or a bluesy thing, or a piece I am working on. If I can’t think of what to play, I put on my favorite CD of the moment. Then I jam to it- I don’t try to play what’s on it perfectly, I just try to play something, and that usually sparks my interest to play other things too, and get some serious practicing in.
3. 30 minutes of scales and arpeggios
It’s important to play slowly at first to let the muscles warm- up. I use patterns, rhythms, bowings and sequences after I’ve played slowly from the G string to the highest note on the E.
4. 30 minutes playing in all keys
I take a melody, or a shorter melodic fragment, and play it in every key (starting on every note possible), by moving in fourths ascending, fifths descending, and half-steps or whole steps both ascending and descending. By sticking to a sequence, I don’t forget any keys. When I first started this, I just used a major scale. Since all the notes go in order, this makes it easier. Then I added pure minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor. After that, pentatonic, diminished, blues and whole tone, etc.
5. Playing in all positions & on all strings
Once I can play a scale or melody in all keys, I make myself play it on each string (using one string only). This works on shifting so I always try it with at least 2 different shifting options. Then I play it in each position (usually ½-5th positions.) This is easier, because the finger patterns and shapes will be the same.
6. Learning New Material by Ear
Before playing at all, I listen to as many recordings as possible of people I admire singing/playing the piece. I know I am ready when I can sing the melody perfectly with good pitch and rhythm at a slow tempo. For really difficult pieces with fast tempos, I do a lot of listening at half speed, or slower if necessary. I also break long melodies into 8 bar phrases or smaller. After playing it on my instrument in the original key, I double check my ears by trying it immediately in a different key- if I struggle, I know its not in my mind’s ear clearly enough, and I go back to listening and singing. Once the melody is worked out, I add the chords at the piano, until I can play them at performance tempo. While playing chords, I sing the melody, and I also sing sets of intervals. For example, I sing the third of every chord, then the 5th, etc. Finally I sing 3 sets of inner guide tone melodies, until I can do so without accompaniment. Then going back to my instrument, I make sure I can play everything I sang and played on the piano without accompaniment at a steady tempo.
7. Performance Practice
Exactly what it sounds like. Ideally, this should never be done alone, but with other performers. If you have no choice, you can play along with a recording, or at the very least, with your metronome. Don’t hesitate, pause, or fix ANYTHING! Make sure you prepare your mind too. Say, “and now my debut performance at Carnegie hall…and the crowd goes crazy!” or something motivating. Try in front of friends and family, and have them clap for you!
-Start easy; end easy.
You won’t build your confidence if you’re always starting and/or ending with things that are difficult for you. Start with something fun, or something you’re good at, something you enjoy the most. Likewise, end the same way, so you feel excited and happy about playing music!
-Mix it up! Doing things the same every time may work for you, but it is boring for me. You can mix and match these different ideas to suit your fancy. Just be sure to touch on all of these things a few times a week, and your playing will improve dramatically!