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Discussions => Teaching and Learning => Topic started by: Chris Brimley on September 11, 2017, 02:21:08 PM

Title: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 11, 2017, 02:21:08 PM
I was interested in the comments of those who responded to the recent thread about 'Practicing'. 

For several years I've been running an Open Mic stage at Woodfest, in NT Hatfield Forest, near Stansted, and it has struck me how excellent all performers (of all kinds of instrument and voice) seem to have become over that period, in presenting their music to audiences.  I'd like to understand more about what techniques box players use to practise their stuff so that it can be up to a high performance standard.  Unless I'm playing with a solid band that I know, I confess to lots of fluffs.

Does anyone else recognise this as an important issue to consider, when rehearsing?  If so, what's your take on it?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Joan Kureczka on September 11, 2017, 02:48:41 PM
Learning to get past fluffs with aplomb is one of the most valuable lessons I'm learning. We play almost weekly (myself and husband on 12-string guitar) in a Sunday afternoon slot at a tiny cafe that sponsors lots of live music. Sometimes it goes very well, other times.....  But it has certainly helped to make my playing better, as much as all the living room practice does if not more.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 11, 2017, 02:55:19 PM
Chris, you've asked an incredibly good question and one that I've often wondered about - how to organise and improve my practicing.
I need to hone my practicing skills, so will lurk on here and try and pick up tips.

My basic approach is a folder of 'tunes to learn' and a list of tunes that have been learnt. I find if I concentrate on a new tune for a length of time then my tunes already learnt need a good buff up.
I also recognise that I will often move on from a tune that's not quite committed to memory. Sometimes I find it is 'digested' whilst I move onto other things, and coming back fresh will give a learning spurt. It could be that in the mean time I've learnt and improved my playing skills that means a 'tune too far' is now in reach. At times just slogging away and getting nowhere I find offputting and depressing, so best leave it and come back later....
It also prevents me from getting too stale with a tune, and returning to it makes it seem fresh again.
I have seen Bob's comments on the other thread, but having to work seems to get in the way of such a good and regular practice regime!
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Steve_freereeder on September 11, 2017, 03:06:04 PM
We all make mistakes when performing. I certainly do, and I've even seen John Kirkpatrick on stage crumble into a cascade of bum notes. He stopped, apologised: "Whoops! I'll just start that again" and then proceeded to give a faultless performance.  (:)

Mistakes don't really matter too much; it's how you recover from them and incorporate them into the overall flow of your music that is important. In my Sheffield orchestra, a former respected conductor used to say to us in the green room immediately prior to a concert performance 'Whatever happens, it will be right'. And there is a lot of truth in that.

So - don't get too strung up about making mistakes; mostly it will 'be right' one way or another. And if the performance really starts to go totally belly up, feel free to emulate JK and start again. No-one will mind. It will demonstrate you're human and not a machine.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 11, 2017, 03:20:24 PM
I find mistakes are far less conspicuous in a band situation than they are solo, you can just pause briefly,  then pick up at the next phrase, unless the others stop to see why you've gone quiet (which used to happen every time, at first)   :(
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Theo on September 11, 2017, 03:21:53 PM
We all make mistakes when performing. I certainly do, and I've even seen John Kirkpatrick on stage crumble into a cascade of bum notes. He stopped, apologised: "Whoops! I'll just start that again" and then proceeded to give a faultless performance.  (:)

Isn't that now an expected part of his performance?

Apart from how you play which is clearly important there is also the business of relating to the audience as a person. That includes how you speak, smile, use gestures, chat and banter and generally make the audience feel they are having a good time. The best entertainers make this look relaxed and spontaneous, but for most I'm sure it is a well honed skill.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 11, 2017, 03:30:55 PM
its also important to always remember that you are there for 'them' rather than them for ''you''. That applies whether 'them' are a hall full of dancers or a seated audience or whatever!

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 11, 2017, 04:07:54 PM
I raised this because I've noticed how incredibly good at performing many of today's musicians have become - and I think that to do that has become natural to some people, for reasons I don't really understand.  Sure, it's good to have techniques to overcome the fluffs, but there's obviously something about a good performer's mind-set that allows them to be highly consistent.  Maybe it's some sort of quiet self-discipline, that can be learnt?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 11, 2017, 04:10:18 PM
Just to add, I've noticed that I can easily mess up a tune I have known for a very long time, so for me it's not really about practice time, it's about attitude, I think.

And after our frenetic weekend of running a music stage, many of us went on in the evening to a nicely-chilled session nearby.  I managed to play a tricky piece near-perfectly, despite (or maybe because of?) being completely exhausted.  I've had this experience before - now what's that all about?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Steve_freereeder on September 11, 2017, 04:17:38 PM
I raised this because I've noticed how incredibly good at performing many of today's musicians have become - and I think that to do that has become natural to some people, for reasons I don't really understand.  Sure, it's good to have techniques to overcome the fluffs, but there's obviously something about a good performer's mind-set that allows them to be highly consistent.  Maybe it's some sort of quiet self-discipline, that can be learnt?

I think that for any sort of performance, be it music, acting, dancing, etc. there has to be an element of showmanship and exhibitionism (both of these in a good sense, and not blatant ego-centricity). You have to want to do it, even though you might (like me) get very nervous and suffer from stage fright. Training at music/drama/dance schools can help nurture and hone your performing skills, and even help you discover those which you never thought you had. But overall, you must have that want or need to perform, which comes from within. People who don't have this urge, want, need, will not go on to perform (even though they actually might technically be competent enough to do so).
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 11, 2017, 04:30:41 PM
And after our frenetic weekend of running a music stage, many of us went on in the evening to a nicely-chilled session nearby.  I managed to play a tricky piece near-perfectly, despite (or maybe because of?) being completely exhausted.  I've had this experience before - now what's that all about?
Sometimes when you're really worn out, the autopilot is more reliable because your brain doesn't keep 2nd guessing it.
In the days of heavy drinking brass players - not now a feature of modern orchestras, a violin player asked the principal trumpet (no names) how he plays so well when he's p***ed. He said, it's simple I practise when I'm p***sed.

As someone who doesn't want to play in public, I practise specifically to learn tunes well enough to record them. I don't allow myself any editing at all, but may only play the piece once through for the camera just in case the wheels come off the second time through.
I know a lot of people say that they don't know what happens to their playing when the red light is on, and there is of course some truth that you play worse with that pressure, but there's also the fact that sometimes it's just not ready - for example if I fumble and restart a phrase, I might actually start up with a fingering that I can't get to from the previous passage without a hiatus - so I think I can get it right second time, but I'm actually not using the difficult fingering that I have to learn. The recording makes sure that I spend time sorting it out properly.
Then there's the disappointment in the recording sounding less successful than it did in my head.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 11, 2017, 06:29:38 PM
Oooops, sorry Chris, misunderstood the thrust of your thread hence my original comment.
In terms of performance, speaking from a Morris perspective, we try and smile and make the most of any cock-up, even act like it was meant to be. It holds true for playing, as said.
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Rees on September 11, 2017, 09:46:43 PM
Main bullet point: It's entertainment.
Try to keep that in mind at all times.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 11, 2017, 10:53:55 PM
seconded!

george ;)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Edward Jennings on September 11, 2017, 10:57:19 PM
"It's entertainment"

I wholeheartedly agree with that, we're not sitting exams, neither are we getting loads of dosh (well, some of us obviously are, but not many I suspect!) for what we are doing. Let's just enjoy playing and performing, after all, most amateur dramatics aren't perfect, neither are most local folkies at the clubs, but they're still very enjoyable.

I'm at the time in my life where if I no longer enjoy doing something, I stop doing it! Life is too short to put in hours of arduous practice, or even practise! (Whatever, I no longer care.)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 11, 2017, 11:17:52 PM
"It's entertainment"

. Let's just enjoy playing and performing, after all, most amateur dramatics aren't perfect, neither are most local folkies at the clubs, but they're still very enjoyable.


I can heartily recommend playing the evil nasty bad person in  pantomime for helping you discover how to relate to an audience. Nothing at all to do with being word perfect, either. Doesn't half boost your confidence.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: boxcall on September 12, 2017, 01:18:41 AM
Another thing is this isn't the raceway were people are waiting for a crash ;)

My father told me remember that the audience wants you to do good, not always easy to do though.

It's always a good idea to have a couple of jokes to fall back on in a pinch.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: squeezy on September 12, 2017, 08:33:10 AM
My main bit of advice regards what happens when something goes wrong with your performance ... I see it time and again with people I teach ... the natural reaction is to stop and play that bit again.  This is what we tend to do when we practise to try and get that bit right ... but music performance doesn't work like that and it can be bad practice.

Keeping the tune in your head going at a steady tempo will allow you to re-join the tune in time after any fluff and the more you do this - the better and quicker you get at doing it until it can be pretty much invisible to all but the most attentive audience member.  Playing regularly for dancing where rhythm and continuity is more important than the right notes if you don't want everyone to grind to a halt is a great discipline that helps with this.

If you don't play for dancing then I would urge you to never stop mid-tune when practising it and only at the end should you pinpoint the bit you were having trouble with and go over that bit in detail.  Practice doesn't make perfect ... practice makes permanent ... and if you stop halfway through a tune and get out of rhythm then that is what your brain will learn to do!
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Edward Jennings on September 12, 2017, 08:43:38 AM
"Practice doesn't make perfect ... practice makes permanent ... and if you stop halfway through a tune and get out of rhythm then that is what your brain will learn to do!"

That seems to be very logical (and so simple it's eminently missable!) it could explain lots of long-term stumbling blocks! Thank you, squeezy.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: squeezy on September 12, 2017, 09:19:16 AM
You can have that for free Edward - life's too short not to share with others  ;-)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: arty on September 12, 2017, 09:42:39 AM
That makes sense Squeezy, as Yann-Fanch Perroches says- " make sure you keep the rhythm going while you make your mistake and the chances are, no one will notice"!
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: James Fitton on September 12, 2017, 10:00:18 AM
I saw two street theatre performers at a recent festival, with, on the face of it, similar juggling-based acts. Performer B was much more technically proficient than performer A, whose juggling was average at best (I can't juggle to save my life, I should stress....) But performer A drew the much bigger crowd, got a much better audience response, bigger laughs and applause, and I suspect had much more in the hat at the end. Performer A was simply miles better at working the crowd, interacting with us, making this a real "live" performance, not simply a demonstration of technical skill. It was all a very useful reminder that the contribution of personality and warmth is often a great deal more important than the contribution of other skills....
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: arty on September 12, 2017, 10:00:28 AM
Some years ago, I worked with a young woman who aimed to become a concert pianist. She came to our house often, to practice on my wife's piano and it was interesting to see how she went about it. She rarely played a piece the whole way through, rather, she took difficult passages from it and worked on them, slowly at first and then gradually increasing the tempo to the correct speed. She did this for hours. In fact, I only heard her play complete pieces on one occasion, when she gave a 'mini concert' for all our invited neighbours.
Another thing she did, which I found very interesting....When she had to learn a piece by heart, she would do so, not at the piano but in an armchair with a cup of coffee. She said she learnt it as you would learn a poem, just by reading it over and over again, sometimes humming it and sometimes playing it with her fingers on the arms of the chair.
Then she left and went back home to Serbia and we haven't heard from her since. But I fully expect to see her on TV one day. She is extremely talented.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 12, 2017, 10:55:33 AM
two excellent bits of advice here
Squeezy: 'practice makes permanent', keep going don't stop and repeat.
I need to do this more often and maintain the rhythm. I do notice as I learn a tune I sometimes stop at the same place before a tricky bit.
I need to keep going.....

Arty: sitting down without the instrument.
I've done this with a tune, just humming it through, looking at the dots and realise it really helps to get the emphasis right on those tricky bits we all encounter ..... I shall do it more often!
Thanks both, good tips!
cheers
Q

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Edward Jennings on September 12, 2017, 11:00:04 AM
Yes, thanks John, free's good. But the next time you're up our way, maybe you'll let me know, and I'll buy you a cuppa!
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Rees on September 12, 2017, 11:19:03 AM
I often practice a new tune in bed, gently dozing off while my fingers play the tune on the pillow.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Steve C on September 12, 2017, 12:28:28 PM
I saw two street theatre performers at a recent festival, with, on the face of it, similar juggling-based acts. Performer B was much more technically proficient than performer A, whose juggling was average at best (I can't juggle to save my life, I should stress....) But performer A drew the much bigger crowd, got a much better audience response, bigger laughs and applause,
I have often thought exactly the same thing watching the buskers here in Bath. I try to compensate for lack of skill with the injection of exuberance and this is something that develops with performance time. Slowly emphasizing your own playing quirks over time and looking happy, Oh I'm now saying the same thing as Rees "It's entertainment".
Steve 
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 12, 2017, 04:31:22 PM
it can also help to look as if you know what you are doing  - even when you don't on the ancient principle of ''bullshit baffles brains''!

george ;)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Theo on September 12, 2017, 04:55:15 PM
it can also help to look as if you know what you are doing  - even when you don't

So just like life really. ;)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 12, 2017, 05:29:03 PM
She rarely played a piece the whole way through, rather, she took difficult passages from it and worked on them, slowly at first and then gradually increasing the tempo to the correct speed. She did this for hours. In fact, I only heard her play complete pieces on one occasion, when she gave a 'mini concert' for all our invited neighbours.
That's a way of using pieces to tackle technique, and is crucial - although others have highlighted that you do eventually need to put it back in context.
  But I fully expect to see her on TV one day. She is extremely talented.
I find those two sentences rarely go together. Much better to see her play live.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Julian S on September 12, 2017, 05:33:37 PM
There is a fine line between playing a tune wrong and simply creating a new version. The 'folk' tradition after all...
However, someone I used to occasionally play in a band with, many years ago, pointed out that I was playing a wrong note in a tune. I replied - it's the way I play it...the response was something along the lines of 'well - it's not as how I composed it '
Thats me told !
As well as playing wrong notes, my other problem is speed control. For me, much easier when there are dancers to play for, but it's always been a struggle.

J
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 12, 2017, 08:02:51 PM
I have over the years trained by foot to act as a reasonably accurate metronome to facilitate keeping at  a steady speed  whatever I am playing

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 12, 2017, 11:26:48 PM
George this almost certainly doesn't apply to you but I  have found that people who use their foot as a metronome generally play perfectly in time... with their foot.

I should add that I don't play well in time on the melodeon but I hope that's because I'm not technically secure.I pplay best in time on the instruments I play best. It seems to be an early casualty.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Bob Ellis on September 13, 2017, 09:32:44 AM
After a conversation with Squeezy in the showers at Sidmouth (!), I have decided to make a stomp box (as used by Spiers and Boden) for use in keeping people to the same tempo in my Well Known Tunes at a Steady Pace sessions. This should ensure that everybody plays at the wrong speed!  :o
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 13, 2017, 10:56:26 AM
indeed!  I once tried in a workshop to get everybody keeping time(ish) with foot down for bass note and foot up for chord and in synch with my foot which all could see ( sat in semicircle)  It didn't work  - some were footing up when they should have been footing down and vice versa- some were doing two ups to one down  and some were just waving the foot around randomly and unrelated to what we were ?playing!


I gave up on that idea

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Rees on September 13, 2017, 01:31:35 PM
I used to play with a percussionist who followed my foot rather than my melodeon - he was way out of time!
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 13, 2017, 02:31:40 PM
After a conversation with Squeezy in the showers at Sidmouth (!), I have decided to make a stomp box (as used by Spiers and Boden) for use in keeping people to the same tempo in my Well Known Tunes at a Steady Pace sessions. This should ensure that everybody plays at the wrong speed!  :o

Did he say where the design could be found?

I suspect that this would take practice to play well. I read something  Eliza C posted, pointing out that Jon worked pretty hard at making it sound good.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Andy Next Tune on September 13, 2017, 03:52:58 PM
I explored stomp boxes a while ago for possible ceilidh band use. Google 'stomp box diy' and you'll find lots of different ideas. Alternatively ebay usually has some for sale from £20 upwards - don't get confused with guitar stomp boxes which are usually effects boxes.

Most however are really designed for someone playing sitting down, i.e. mainly toe tapping to make the sound rather than playing standing up and using heel or whole foot stomps. Most use piezo mic modules.

I seem to recall reading (S&B forum?) the Jon Boden set up was a custom build based around a large piece of wood raised off the floor, which he stood and stomped/danced on, and some effective placement and use of mics.

The challenge is once you start using it in a dance set,  you really need to keep it going despite what your leg muscles are telling you. If you are already a clog, tap or step dancer then you've definitely got a head start in terms of both rhythm and stamina.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: squeezy on September 13, 2017, 05:09:30 PM
The DIY one can be made from the contents of a B&Q quite cheaply.  A decent square of 12mm hardwood ply nailed to 4 bits of 2 by 2 give enough floor clearance to put a mic and create a boomy sound acoustically too (leave small gaps for the sound to escape and for mic leads to run through.  If you place felt or foam between them before nailing then it eliminates most creaking and clacking.

The expensive bit is the microphone when amplifying it - they're not all equal.  We've always used Audio Technica ATM87R boundary mics and they're fantastic ... but they don't make them any more ... doh!  A good boundary mic with a nice low end frequency response will do a good job.  At a pinch you can use any mic - even a Sure SM57 vocal mic will give a half-decent sound.

And yes ... it does really start to teach you about leg muscles you didn't know you had halfway through a really dancy set!  But you can swap foot.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Huw Adamson on September 13, 2017, 06:18:21 PM
In this age of carefully constructed and recordings and sound mixing on CDs, the mistakes can, in a weird way, almost become the best part of the performance, being the most unique.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 13, 2017, 07:14:09 PM
The pendulum seems to have started back, from immaculate but cold recordings to imperfect but alive and ephemeral performances. If you aren't there, you miss it.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 13, 2017, 08:54:23 PM
Funnily enough, I do find that being able to set down a steady beat makes it much easier not to fall over mid-tune, (and so is having a good rhythm a section in a band) so I agree that this discussion about stomp boxes is very relevant.  I would also like to find a good one - I have a stereo (heel and toe) 'Beat-Root', and it's surprisingly easy for the foot to use, but I can't really get on with it, because both channels require so much eq'ing that it's not all that practical. 
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 13, 2017, 08:57:31 PM
And on the issue of steadiness, it's an awful lot better having one than not for keeping a good rhythm.  However if in a band with a good drummer, it still comes into its own in setting out a 'groove' when starting to play a tune, I reckon.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 16, 2017, 11:21:20 PM
when I was in my teens  I knew a bloke who played regularly for ceilidhs and Scottish country dances on a small 3 row box usually accompanied by a pianist. He also had a very accurate invisible drummer!  On one foot he wore an army surplus hobnail boot and kept time with it on the bass of the microphone  stand!

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Little eggy on September 17, 2017, 08:59:55 AM
Very helpful topic. Agree totally with (1) starting slow and building speed;(2)  'carry on and recover - don't stop and start again';  (3) enjoy the performance.

May I add -

Use Youtube and CDs to get the tune totally familiar in your head (I have all my CDs in the car). 

Arrive early at folk club/folk session and warm your fingers up properly. I play a lot better after 5 minutes of playing.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Clive Williams on September 17, 2017, 11:15:55 AM
After a conversation with Squeezy in the showers at Sidmouth (!), I have decided to make a stomp box (as used by Spiers and Boden) for use in keeping people to the same tempo in my Well Known Tunes at a Steady Pace sessions. This should ensure that everybody plays at the wrong speed!  :o

Did he say where the design could be found?

I suspect that this would take practice to play well. I read something  Eliza C posted, pointing out that Jon worked pretty hard at making it sound good.

There's a YouTube video on Jon Boden's channel where he shows the stompbox up close and what it looks like underneath. It's a pretty interesting set of videos where he covers all his instruments that he uses in his solo show.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: BJG on September 17, 2017, 08:08:55 PM
I agree that this discussion about stomp boxes is very relevant.  I would also like to find a good one - I have a stereo (heel and toe) 'Beat-Root', and it's surprisingly easy for the foot to use, but I can't really get on with it, because both channels require so much eq'ing that it's not all that practical.

I recently picked up a Horse Kick Pro (https://ortegaguitars.com/product-finder/percussion/percussion-produkt/show/Product/horse-kick-pro/horsekickpro/). (I generally struggle to play anything that doesn't take batteries.)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 17, 2017, 08:20:30 PM
that sort of ''clack clack'' comes entirely free of charge and effort with every hohner pokerwork, double ray and Erica! 

george >:E ;)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Ebor_fiddler on September 20, 2017, 12:16:30 AM
 ;D
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Jack Campin on September 20, 2017, 01:59:10 PM
A comment Dick Gaughan once made on a forum: "I've never yet done a show without fucking something up and never yet done one where the audience noticed".
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 20, 2017, 02:30:21 PM
indeed!, I often think we sometimes worry far too much about getting every detail ''correct'' - whatever correct may mean in the sense of playing trad folk music either for dance or as a 'performance'.  Its the overall efficacy that matters

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Stiamh on September 20, 2017, 02:40:15 PM
A comment Dick Gaughan once made on a forum: "I've never yet done a show without fucking something up and never yet done one where the audience noticed".

A slight exaggeration, surely. I saw him eff up the start of a song and have to start again, something that can hardly have escaped the notice of the rest of the audience. He was also prone to falling off the tunes he flatpicked at great speed - but maybe I was the only one who noticed there. (:) He is one of my favourite performers by the way. 
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Anahata on September 20, 2017, 03:49:15 PM
On another forum (probably uk.music.folk newsgroup) I trotted out the old adage about an amateur practising till he plays it right, while a professional practises until he can't get it wrong, and Dick Gaughan picked up on this and pointed out that even a professional does get it wrong sometimes, and needs to acquire the extra skill of recovering gracefully when that happens.

I saw him break a guitar string during a song once. I wasn't sure what had happened, because he continued without missing a beat to the end of the song. Then without a break he started his verbal introduction to the next song which rambled off into a rather lengthy discussion about the differences between the Scottish and English education systems, and it was only half way though it I realised this was a slick distraction to cover the string changing routine. He didn't mention the string, unstrap his guitar or leave centre stage, nor even stoop to pick anything up: a set of spare strings were ready and waiting in his back pocket. I still wonder if he'd even rehearsed the whole routine at home to make it as smooth as possible.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 20, 2017, 06:09:30 PM
The thing is that the top performers at Festivals these days virtually never get it wrong, at least not noticeably.  And it is mightily impressive.  If there are mental skills that they have acquired to allow them to achieve that, what on earth are they?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Rees on September 20, 2017, 08:29:37 PM
The thing is that the top performers at Festivals these days virtually never get it wrong, at least not noticeably.  And it is mightily impressive.  If there are mental skills that they have acquired to allow them to achieve that, what on earth are they?

Mostly, they are young  :-\
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Bob Ellis on September 21, 2017, 09:18:46 AM
The thing is that the top performers at Festivals these days virtually never get it wrong, at least not noticeably.  And it is mightily impressive.  If there are mental skills that they have acquired to allow them to achieve that, what on earth are they?

Mostly, they are young  :-\

That's no excuse! They need to understand that this is folk music and that it is an essential part of the genre to get things wrong on a regular basis. I've been playing like that for decades and I don't need some smart-arse youngsters coming along and playing without mistakes, as if that's the way you're supposed to do it. What is the world coming to?  :o
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 21, 2017, 09:54:42 AM
how true Bob!

 I sometimes wonder if the 'perfection'   achieved (?)  by some of the young 'high flyers' is aided and abetted  by modern digital  sound systems  that are constantly juggled with by highly skilled 'soundmen' who can turn shit into milk chocolate!

george ;)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Theo on September 21, 2017, 10:00:35 AM
Unfortunately not George. It’s more often that sound systems make live performance worse rather than better. Relatively few sound people really understand how to work with acoustic instruments. Thankfully there are some.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 21, 2017, 10:58:17 AM
I used to do a lot of juggling. Cheap trick for getting a clap was to drop a club or a ball deliberately. This gets a groan. Then you maneuver the dropped thingummy on to your foot and flick it back up into the pattern, without breaking rhythm, to thunderous applause. You have to do it right, though. Not sure how, or if,  this could transfer to a  melodeon performance.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Stiamh on September 21, 2017, 12:42:22 PM
The thing is that the top performers at Festivals these days virtually never get it wrong, at least not noticeably.  And it is mightily impressive.  If there are mental skills that they have acquired to allow them to achieve that, what on earth are they?

Mostly, they are young  :-\

That's no excuse! They need to understand that this is folk music and that it is an essential part of the genre to get things wrong on a regular basis. I've been playing like that for decades and I don't need some smart-arse youngsters coming along and playing without mistakes, as if that's the way you're supposed to do it. What is the world coming to?  :o

Quite agree Bob. Someone should tell them that not making mistakes is just unmusical.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: pikey on September 21, 2017, 12:45:37 PM
The thing is that the top performers at Festivals these days virtually never get it wrong, at least not noticeably.  And it is mightily impressive.  If there are mental skills that they have acquired to allow them to achieve that, what on earth are they?

Mostly, they are young  :-\

That's no excuse! They need to understand that this is folk music and that it is an essential part of the genre to get things wrong on a regular basis. I've been playing like that for decades and I don't need some smart-arse youngsters coming along and playing without mistakes, as if that's the way you're supposed to do it. What is the world coming to?  :o

But Bob , if you play a C drone all the way through every tune in G or D , then it's much harder to make a mistake
 >:E
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 21, 2017, 04:31:50 PM
The thing about being young is that you haven't had enough time for long experience.  Therefore, if they're getting it right and oldsters like me are not, they must have a secret of some sort.  Is it sheer focussed practice, or what?  Or maybe, and quite possibly, old players are just hopeless cases? 

Actually I don't really believe that things are hopeless, just yet, because I've noticed my reliability improving through much live performance, which tends to suggest that this focus may be the key.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Stiamh on September 21, 2017, 04:59:24 PM
Oldsters? I recently attended a concert of music of the sort I don't normally cross the road to hear (it was a benefit for an NGO that I support). Western swing, jazz standards, country and so on. The acoustic guitar virtuoso and the singer (no slouch on guitar himself) were both in their sixties and they played two sets of about an hour each, song after song after song, including requests (and thus presumably unrehearsed), truly sparkling musicianship, and not a mistake, hesitation, forgotten line or any kind of blip anywhere.

That's what they have been doing for a living for decades, of course. And I'd like to think that if I were a professional musician with decades of experience, I'd do the same. But I was still impressed.

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 21, 2017, 05:05:22 PM
Greg - re: juggling skills.
A brilliant trick and yes worth thunderous applause.
I am NOT going to drop any of my boxes on my foot no matter how many mistakes I've made.
Just thought I'd point that out ::)
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Anahata on September 21, 2017, 06:08:34 PM
they played two sets of about an hour each, song after song after song, including requests (and thus presumably unrehearsed), truly sparkling musicianship, and not a mistake, hesitation, forgotten line or any kind of blip anywhere.

If you went to any of the BBC proms concerts,  or indeed any other classical music concert,  you'd see and hear the same, of course.
The same with an evening at any decent jazz club. Or rock concert... or anything that isn't "folk".

The problem some people have is the inverted snobbery that seems to insist that folk music must be played by musicians without proper training or skill. And then when somebody who has done the necessary graft plays folk music, they wonder how it's possible...
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: butimba on September 21, 2017, 06:38:05 PM
Interesting discussion! From my own experience I think the things that help are:

1) Being really comfortable with the music so you can play it on automatic pilot when your mind inevitably starts wandering in the middle of a performance. (This comes down to focused practising and a lot of it.)

2) Having the right mindset that allows you to relax and enjoy the performance. I think part of this just comes down to practice: the more performing you do, the less scary it gets. But it’s also about just having confidence in what you’re doing and wanting to share it with other people. And being able to focus your attention on the music rather than the audience.

Also, from experience I’ve learnt you can get away with a surprising amount of fluffs as a performer and as long as you keep going, most of the audience don’t notice. So re Chris’ comment that top performers virtually never get it wrong: I bet they actually get it wrong a lot more than most people notice. Which I think is a heartening realisation.

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 21, 2017, 07:06:41 PM
Greg - re: juggling skills.
A brilliant trick and yes worth thunderous applause.
I am NOT going to drop any of my boxes on my foot no matter how many mistakes I've made.
Just thought I'd point that out ::)
Q

Don't blame you.
Bet you think it's a good idea to pick up a tune, after you lost it a bit, without losing the beat.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 21, 2017, 07:10:47 PM
On a less flippant note - there's no melodeon equivalent that I can think of.
It really dies come back to simply keep going!
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 21, 2017, 07:18:48 PM
I suppose that when players fall over in mid-performance, there's two problems involved - the first and obvious one is that they have temporarily forgotten the necessary muscle memory.  But perhaps the second is that they don't know their instrument enough, theoretically, as say a classical violinist does, and therefore they don't have the immediate recovery skills which allow them a seamless continuation in performance to the next notes.  If this is the case, could it suggest that the traditional 'by ear' way of learning to play the button accordion/melodeon is a very bad one, because it avoids the discipline of learning the tune's structure?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Steve_freereeder on September 21, 2017, 07:27:24 PM
I suppose that when players fall over in mid-performance, there's two problems involved - the first and obvious one is that they have temporarily forgotten the necessary muscle memory.  But perhaps the second is that they don't know their instrument enough, theoretically, as say a classical violinist does, and therefore they don't have the immediate recovery skills which allow them a seamless continuation in performance to the next notes.  If this is the case, could it suggest that the traditional 'by ear' way of learning to play the button accordion/melodeon is a very bad one, because it avoids the discipline of learning the tune's structure?

I don't think that learning by ear particularly 'avoids the discipline of learning the tune's structure'. Someone who doesn't know the structure of a tune hasn't absorbed it thoroughly enough, regardless of whether they learned it by ear or from written music. It is only when the tune is completely internalised in the brain that the player can (a) seamlessly recover from errors and/or (b) play variations/improvise, as required. If you know the tune and your instrument well enough, the distinction between (a) and (b) becomes increasingly blurred.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 21, 2017, 07:57:29 PM
I think that there is frequently too much emphasis on learning 'new' tunes  and not enough put on  rally trying to master the instrument  and its built in idiosyncrasies.  Like any other instrument this requires a high level of manual dexterity on treble, bass and bellows     which does not come from solely playing tunes. 

 manual dexterity is a prerequisite to complete command of the instrument  and greatly facilitates cockups the seemless uncocking of!

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 21, 2017, 08:42:13 PM
I think I fail in mid tune simply because the tune has gone from my head. Somehow I've snapped out of it.
It's not necessarily wondering which note to press, it's more 'how does it go?' in my head.
I think George's comments are sound. Not so much learning new tunes but really getting the old ones built in so they are part of you.
Something I need to do - *really* get them embedded in the brain.
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 21, 2017, 09:28:11 PM
Of course I play from music, but that doesn't mean that I focus on it all the time. One of the biggest reasons for falling off a piece of music, assuming that it is not just that the technical requirements of the piece are at the edge of your playing skills, is the transition between auto pilot and aware playing. Auto pilot is good, but the awakening is a dangerous no-mans land of neither one thing or the other where the brain trips itself up - I guess they may even be different neural pathways or different sides of the brain needed.

One thing I used to tell people just starting out in the profession was that a small mistake is often the cause of a much bigger mistake, because your response to tripping up a bit can take more operating memory from your playing brain than it can really cope with.
Another habit to avoid is knowing that a technical passage is coming up, and in the mental tensing leading up to that passage we knock an easy phrase over.

Don't mess it up before you have to, is the sort of advice I give, so that you stay with the playing through the straightforward bits.
It is like actors forgetting lines - they are much less likely to forget lines if they are staying in character, really listening to the words from their fellow actors and responding as their character would, rather than switching off until they are the centre of attention again.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: AirTime on September 21, 2017, 09:55:12 PM
Interesting discussion! From my own experience I think the things that help are:

1) Being really comfortable with the music so you can play it on automatic pilot when your mind inevitably starts wandering in the middle of a performance. (This comes down to focused practising and a lot of it.)

2) Having the right mindset that allows you to relax and enjoy the performance. I think part of this just comes down to practice: the more performing you do, the less scary it gets. But it’s also about just having confidence in what you’re doing and wanting to share it with other people. And being able to focus your attention on the music rather than the audience.

Also, from experience I’ve learnt you can get away with a surprising amount of fluffs as a performer and as long as you keep going, most of the audience don’t notice. So re Chris’ comment that top performers virtually never get it wrong: I bet they actually get it wrong a lot more than most people notice. Which I think is a heartening realisation.

I think this is right on the money!  I suspect "professional musicians" have practised their tunes more times than we might realize. I recently had lunch with one of the pre-eminent violin players in Canada. I asked him how he was able to play flawlessly on command ... he said "practice". Playing the tune often enough that it becomes completely ingrained, so that while playing one is very relaxed & confident & able to concentrate on flow & expression. It takes me a (very) long time to reach that point, but I can see how it works. One might consider (for example) how many times Andy Cutting has played "In Continental Mood" - I'm willing to bet it's been thousands of times.

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 21, 2017, 10:01:54 PM
Thanks p&t, some things there make a lot of sense, especially transition from autopilot to awareness.
I certainly relate to that.
in fact your post has a lot of excellent points to consider.
Thank you!
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 21, 2017, 10:56:49 PM
one thing that I don't think has been mentioned in this thread ( unless I have missed it) is the importance of really listening to what you are playing rather than just depending on so called 'auto pilot' to sort everything out.  I think of it as a sort of 'feedback loop'  brain - arm -fingers -  box - ear - brain - arm- fingers -box -ear - brain etc etc. 

This entails listening not only to the notes but to how you are making the notes sound long/short/loud/ quiet etc. Phrasing - where to phrase rather than a continuous stream of notes.  In other words to add great dollops of 'musicality' to playing the notes (hopefully the right ones!) in the right order.

Some people have said that Sir Jimmy Shand never made a mistake in a tune but a more likely tale is the one that said something on the lines of   'if he made a mistake  in , say the A part of a tune he was careful to repeat the mistake each time the A part repeated so it would  sound like part of the tune!'  or something like that

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Anahata on September 22, 2017, 10:50:34 AM
I suspect "professional musicians" have practised their tunes more times than we might realize.

Spot on!
I've read in several places that all it requires to reach professional standard on any instrument is 10,000 hours of practice.
However you carve it up, that's a LOT of time and work.
10 hours every day for 3 years, or 3 hours every day for 10 years, or 1 hour every day for 30 years...
How many of us even get within an order of magnitude of that?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 22, 2017, 10:52:16 AM
George, it is a difficult balancing act surely?
If you are listening intently to yourself, realise you've made a mistake then as p&t says it can escalate/deteriorate from a minor glitch into a 'oh no I'm messing up....' disaster.

I think that the balance between autopilot, where you're really relaxed, getting into the tune etc  and really listening to make sure you are 'getting it right'  is a knife edge.
I sometimes 'over-enjoy' a tune and get so carried away with it that I just snap out of the euphoria and enjoyment into a nothingness of notes ad blank mind!
Maybe? or am I off course here?
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 22, 2017, 10:55:08 AM
Anahata.... I too have done the sums regarding practice time, taken a look at my birth certificate and got very depressed..... :(
As far as musicianship goes I'll have to settle for the 'just for enjoyment' category, which is fine really!
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: arty on September 22, 2017, 12:53:37 PM
Last Wednesday evening, I had a conversation with young Mohsen Amini, the brilliant Concertina player from Glasgow. He told me that he practices 8 hours a day and when I expressed surprise, he said - "it's my job and I treat it as such".
Says it all really. It's about putting in the time. 

If you want to see what 8 hours a day gives you ........ https://youtu.be/Am38t3DZiU0
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 22, 2017, 01:17:47 PM
reported on here before, a young Mr Cutting did the same and practiced daily for a year before deciding it was something he could do....
and look where that's got him!  ;)

With reference to the youngsters: Perhaps we are seeing the results of the young blood coming through who have access to such things as university degrees that specialise in performance and folk things. A genuine attempt at teaching them things about our music and culture. Therefore I hazard a guess that they get the information, tips and performance skills etc that it takes others a lifetime to accrue.

And... using such 'cross over ' skills and knowledge from other areas of music, such as our friends here p&t, plus Anahata and Steve Freereeder has experience in from their classical music backgrounds.
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: arty on September 22, 2017, 01:43:53 PM
I am sure you are right Q, spending three years at music college studying your instrument is, if you don't squander the time, going to produce a competent, talented musician very often. But it must also depend on having a good teacher to nourish, encourage and give you planned direction.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 22, 2017, 01:56:04 PM
I agree arty, but who on this forum could spend 3 years playing  and studying music when of a similar age?
It must have an incredible effect on them as performers.
It must condense a life time of other people's playing time who have to juggle between family, work, 'life events' etc into a concentrated 3 years, then they can improve and move on....whereas most of us after that amount of playing time won't still be here!
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: arty on September 22, 2017, 02:17:55 PM
Well, I don't even think about that. At my age, 68, I just want to play well enough to enjoy myself and, after 5 years of teaching myself I do enjoy myself now and again. It's good, it's fun and it's a lot better than watching the TV !
Never forget to enjoy it Q  (:)
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 22, 2017, 02:56:35 PM
I do enjoy playing and agree that just playing well enough for your own pleasure is a good achievement.
I realise that working out one of 'those' tunes is also enjoyable and a good mental workout at times. Trying to work out how to cheat properly on a limited instrument so a tune can be played is all part of the fun and games for me. As is the sense of achievement when you finally get there with one of  the awkward tunes.
I know I can never achieve the performance levels of those starting when young, as Anahata shows, there's not enough time.....but I still can get enjoyment and a sense of achievement at my level. Hopefully that's true at whichever rung of the ladder you're on.
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Anahata on September 22, 2017, 03:34:53 PM
I am sure you are right Q, spending three years at music college studying your instrument is, if you don't squander the time, going to produce a competent, talented musician very often. But it must also depend on having a good teacher to nourish, encourage and give you planned direction.

It's not possible to practise for eight hours a day without something to inspire and encourage you to do it, whether it's an outside influence like a teacher or a player you admire, desperately wanting to impress someone or prove something, or just sheer bloody-mindedness. Or perhaps, having a natural aptitude that enables you to make good progress through that practice, which is always satisfying.

I've even found that the challenge of Melnet ToTM has sometimes made me work harder and spend more time practising that I would otherwise have done. And it's improved my playing all round, so I recently find myself enjoying the music that's coming out of my melodeon without seeming to have to make so much effort to produce it.

I just want to play well enough to enjoy myself
One of the beauties of music is that, with the right attitude,  that works at all levels!
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 22, 2017, 03:44:19 PM
George, it is a difficult balancing act surely?
If you are listening intently to yourself, realise you've made a mistake then as p&t says it can escalate/deteriorate from a minor glitch into a 'oh no I'm messing up....' disaster.

I think that the balance between autopilot, where you're really relaxed, getting into the tune etc  and really listening to make sure you are 'getting it right'  is a knife edge.
I sometimes 'over-enjoy' a tune and get so carried away with it that I just snap out of the euphoria and enjoyment into a nothingness of notes ad blank mind!
Maybe? or am I off course here?
Q

I think the state you describe is the known as "being in the zone", when it all just flows from something inside you without the need to think consciously about it. Like driving a car. It relates to what sports people call "playing the inner game". Zen musicianship?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: nigelr on September 22, 2017, 03:50:54 PM
I think the state you describe is the known as "being in the zone", when it all just flows from something inside you without the need to think consciously about it. Like driving a car. It relates to what sports people call "playing the inner game". Zen musicianship?
Discussed at length in this book, which I found very informative (not that I'm competent enough or have enough time to put it all into practice!)

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-inner-game-of-music/w-timothy-gallwey/barry-green/9781447291725
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 22, 2017, 04:13:50 PM

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-inner-game-of-music/w-timothy-gallwey/barry-green/9781447291725

Thank you Nigel
That's my Christmas present to myself sorted (obviously, Christmas seaon has already started in the shops, so I won't have to wait (:))
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 22, 2017, 05:07:10 PM
George, it is a difficult balancing act surely?
If you are listening intently to yourself, realise you've made a mistake then as p&t says it can escalate/deteriorate from a minor glitch into a 'oh no I'm messing up....' disaster.

I think that the balance between autopilot, where you're really relaxed, getting into the tune etc  and really listening to make sure you are 'getting it right'  is a knife edge.
I sometimes 'over-enjoy' a tune and get so carried away with it that I just snap out of the euphoria and enjoyment into a nothingness of notes ad blank mind!
Maybe? or am I off course here?

The way I look at it is that if you are not listening to what you are playing you have no way of knowing if you are or are not making a half decent job of it.  Same goes for playing in a 'band'  you need a second feedback loop operating  to pick up exactly what other people and particularly the leader are playing.

This is not a contradiction  with playing on 'auto pilot'  as the feedback loop complements  and ?improves what auto pilot is dishing up!

george
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 22, 2017, 05:38:11 PM
fair enough George, will allow the autopilot to listen!

Yes, thank you Anahata ' in the zone ' is exactly what I mean.
It happens all across things. I remember my mountain bike days used to have periods when it all just flowed and I'd bounce home with a massive smile, and other times it was just hard work.
Same on the box!
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Julian S on September 22, 2017, 06:05:53 PM
Damn. Forty years playing and still short at least 4000 hours...if only I'd played for five rather than three hours a day in the first couple of years - but I'd probably have been kicked out of my home ! And if only Melnet had existed back then !
Now I've got the time to play with, I'm sure I would benefit from concentrating and focussing on a couple of tunes over an hour, rather than the half dozen or more I noodle around with. And now I've got another bunch of tunes to attempt, courtesy of Leveret, Topette, and La Machine ! I think I know my way around the instrument, but each of these tunes can shiw how my technique is sadly lacking.
I know Andy Cutting spends an incredible amount of time perfecting each tune - and sometimes each phrase, and we see and hear the result. Ho hum.
I reckon attitudes have certainly changed over the years with more of a recognition that hard graft is necessary to perform traditional music to a high standard. And there are so many wonderful musicians to inspire us (and in my case sometimes depress me !)

J
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Anahata on September 22, 2017, 06:28:35 PM
I reckon attitudes have certainly changed over the years with more of a recognition that hard graft is necessary to perform traditional music to a high standard.

Yes, I think that's true.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 22, 2017, 08:00:19 PM
Damn. Forty years playing and still short at least 4000 hours...if only I'd played for five rather than three hours a day in the first couple of years - but I'd probably have been kicked out of my home ! And if only Melnet had existed back then !
Did you stop playing for a while? if you managed 2000 hours in the first couple of years, then you'd only need 35 minutes a day to rack up the 10,000 in that time.

Mind you - we are talking 10,000 hours of practice, not playing!
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Julian S on September 22, 2017, 08:44:21 PM
Ha ! Keeping up the three hours a day proved beyond me. Work always got in the way. But I do wonder whether playing in a ceilidh band or for a dance side should count extra !

J
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 23, 2017, 12:11:42 AM
I'm very grateful for the huge number of highly thoughtful comments on this thread - I didn't realise it was such an interesting issue!

The only comment I'd want to make is that many people have honed in on 'hours of practice', and understandably so, because it's clearly important.  However my hunch was that we perhaps need to understand more about practising than just doing lots of it - how should practice be focussed, to best effect? 

The thing is that youngsters have on average not yet had the time to put the hours in as oldsters, so how come so many of them are so blooming good?  There seems to be something else involved.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 23, 2017, 12:35:22 AM
I'm very grateful for the huge number of highly thoughtful comments on this thread - I didn't realise it was such an interesting issue!

The only comment I'd want to make is that many people have honed in on 'hours of practice', and understandably so, because it's clearly important.  However my hunch was that we perhaps need to understand more about practising than just doing lots of it - how should practice be focussed, to best effect? 

The thing is that youngsters have on average not yet had the time to put the hours in as oldsters, so how come so many of them are so blooming good?  There seems to be something else involved.

Maybe it's just that they have less clutter taking up  space in their brain.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Julian S on September 23, 2017, 07:11:07 AM
I'm very grateful for the huge number of highly thoughtful comments on this thread - I didn't realise it was such an interesting issue!

The only comment I'd want to make is that many people have honed in on 'hours of practice', and understandably so, because it's clearly important.  However my hunch was that we perhaps need to understand more about practising than just doing lots of it - how should practice be focussed, to best effect? 

The thing is that youngsters have on average not yet had the time to put the hours in as oldsters, so how come so many of them are so blooming good?  There seems to be something else involved.

Maybe it's just that they have less clutter taking up  space in their brain.

I also wonder how the learning process changes as we get older. We know how the learning curve works, but I suspect starting early means more rapid progress up the steep part of the curve - simply getting to be a better player more quickly. Couple that with maybe being more prepared to experiment, think laterally, absorb other influences maybe ?
Another point I pondered overnight- I think there is now more appreciation that instrumental traditional music (and not just Celtic) can be great to listen to as well as dance to. But making the transition from playing for dance, enjoying sessions etc, to playing mainly instrumental music to audiences is another matter and that's where the ability of our best players is displayed. How to approach that ?

J
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 23, 2017, 09:02:04 AM
Chris has mentioned something that has often occurred to me - how to practice effectively?
With many of us having to juggle work and family commitments, we need to make the most of the precious time we have to practice and play.
I know this should be enjoyable so I split the time between playing tunes and enjoying that then reining back and concentrating on the new tune and phrases within it that trip be up..... I know little about the actual process or technique of learning and practicing. I enjoy the learning process, the thought behind selecting chord/bass accompniament and keyboard fingering to enable me to play the piece and the - hopefully - sense of achievement when the practice piece moves into the repertoire.... but I'm sure I could improve the technique, especially the cerebral aspect of it all.

I think 'effective practicing ' is a topic we all would like to know more about.
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: butimba on September 23, 2017, 09:27:03 AM
The thing is that youngsters have on average not yet had the time to put the hours in as oldsters, so how come so many of them are so blooming good?  There seems to be something else involved.

My guesses would be:

1) a younger brain just learns quicker, so it’s easier to pick up an instrument when you’re younger than when you’re older

2) you can still rack up quite an impressive number of hours practice when you’re young, if you’re committed – if someone starts playing at 10, and does on average an hour a day for 7 years, that’s over 3,000 hours by the time they’re 18

3) they may well have partly come through the classical route and had weekly lessons. I think lessons can make a huge difference in improving your technique, challenging you to try new things and giving you goals to work towards.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: butimba on September 23, 2017, 09:50:24 AM
I think 'effective practicing ' is a topic we all would like to know more about.

Humbly suggested tips on effective practising (partly based on having learnt the piano to degree standard):

•   Focus on the bits of the tune you can’t play as well as the rest and practise them slowly, over and over again, until they’re under your fingers at a steady tempo. Also practise the joins – i.e. going into the bits you can’t play and getting out of them. Then gradually speed up.
•   Sometimes try playing all the way through the tune and make yourself keep going even if you mess up.
•   Occasionally play with a metronome to make sure you can actually play the whole tune at a steady tempo.
•   Make a conscious effort to play around with tunes and try new things – different chords, different rhythms in the left hand, improvised bits in the right hand, etc.
•   Spend some time thinking about the phrasing and dynamics – musicality requires practise in the same way that technique does – and practise bits of the tune over and over again until you’ve put the dynamics/phrasing into it that you want.

There is definitely a difference between sitting down to play through a bunch of tunes for fun, and sitting down to properly practise them. I am fully guilty of often not following through on my advice above – but it’s what I’m trying to do to work towards a more professional standard.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Steve_freereeder on September 23, 2017, 10:17:27 AM
Humbly suggested tips on effective practising (partly based on having learnt the piano to degree standard):

•   Focus on the bits of the tune you can’t play as well as the rest and practise them slowly, over and over again, until they’re under your fingers at a steady tempo. Also practise the joins – i.e. going into the bits you can’t play and getting out of them. Then gradually speed up.
•   Sometimes try playing all the way through the tune and make yourself keep going even if you mess up.
•   Occasionally play with a metronome to make sure you can actually play the whole tune at a steady tempo.
•   Make a conscious effort to play around with tunes and try new things – different chords, different rhythms in the left hand, improvised bits in the right hand, etc.
•   Spend some time thinking about the phrasing and dynamics – musicality requires practise in the same way that technique does – and practise bits of the tune over and over again until you’ve put the dynamics/phrasing into it that you want.

There is definitely a difference between sitting down to play through a bunch of tunes for fun, and sitting down to properly practise them. I am fully guilty of often not following through on my advice above – but it’s what I’m trying to do to work towards a more professional standard.

Absolutely spot-on advice! Your last sentence resonates with me too!  :|bl
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 23, 2017, 10:42:25 AM

•   Focus on the bits of the tune you can’t play as well as the rest..


Identifying these bits can be tricky. They are not always the bits you think they are. I find that, if I record myself playing and then listen back to it, I can't help doing this with a critical ear. Sections that I think are just what I want them to be  aren't. The notes may be the right ones in, more or less,  the right places but everything else can be wrong: Tempo, rhythm, dynamics. Even meter changes (my waltz a few months ago had acquired two bars of 4/4, that where the devil to get rid of). All the things that aren't just the notes. It's the main reason I rarely post in ToTM. It takes me all month to learn to make something sound even vaguely like I want it to sound. I console myself by thinking that it must be making me a better player. Progress is slow.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 23, 2017, 06:31:16 PM
Yes I'm guilty of just playing tune too, but appreciate the advice
It's that sort of thing that will really help me to improve my practicing.
Thank you!
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: butimba on September 23, 2017, 06:34:40 PM
Absolutely spot-on advice! Your last sentence resonates with me too!  :|bl

 :D
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 23, 2017, 06:49:55 PM
Yes, that was all very good advice, and thanks, Butimba.

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 23, 2017, 07:20:55 PM
I'd add:
separate technique from pieces (I would also insist on building technique from pieces - but I suspect we do that bit well).

In technical practise zoom in on detail: for example practise moving between two notes (either cross row or bellows change) with a variety of rhythms and attacks - practise crescendo-ing from one note to the other at a variety of speeds, then long note to staccato note, then with a gap (but where the bellows pressure is maintained and the finger is the tap to open the next note), you can imagine the rest...
Then add a third note and do it again as a three note motif.
I also recommend playing it a certain way perfectly 3 times in a row before changing the pattern or the tempo.
Concentrate on different things each time - maybe the hammer-ike finger attack, maybe the release of the key to abruptly stop the note.
You can play slowly with fast fingers, by the way.

I hasten to add that I don't approach my melodeon playing that way, but I would if I wanted to make the best use of time rather than focusing on writing tunes.

The big thing is to listen incredibly hard to the detail. There is a lot of note bashing in technical practice, but for me that misses the point. Playing scales is, beyond a relatively early level (in professional terms) not about getting the notes right or building finger speed - it is about control of sound and of attack and release.

I actually loved that sort of practice when I was a player. It takes you into a special state of focus. And you are always a better player at the end of the session than you are at the start.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 23, 2017, 07:22:19 PM
It seems to me there's two 'zones' for performers:

In the first, a musician is such a good sight reader that they have learned to concentrate like mad on reproducing the dots.  Many people say this loses the spontaneity, but it's not always so.  I'm myself not a good enough sight reader, but I certainly use this technique as a prop when I have only half-learned a piece, particularly if it's slow.  It's also possible to use the dots in a slightly different way - read them occasionally, to remind yourself of how the tune progresses.  This does work for me sometimes, but perhaps mainly because it gives me confidence.

In the second, the performer relies on mainly muscle memory, propped up by knowledge of musical theory and structure if they have it.  This is what I suppose I'm talking about most of all.  There seems to be technique involved in memorising hugely complex sequences of notes and accompaniment, which I have only partially acquired.  There's hopefully a point when I rehearse when suddenly it all comes together, and I can then play that tune without dots, or even thinking, and this is really the satisfying bit, allowing me to concentrate on the whole tune, as it were.  I find this is the time to practice like mad, because then you reinforce the right things, and from then on playing the tune is a bit like riding the proverbial bicycle!

But my current worry is that occasionally I fall over, even then, and it can happen without much warning!  For me, this is a bit like a 'tic', or more precisely, 'ontological insecurity', I believe it's called - I suddenly become detached from the performance (almost like an 'out of body' experience), and lose all groove and playing ease, and have to regain control like mad.  My take on it is that the conscious mind is becoming worried, and tries to control the subconscious too much.  My theory is that there is a mindset to successful performing.  I wish I knew what it was, but when I look at great performers - Andy Cutting, KT Tunstall, Steve Knightley, Eliza Carthy to name four at random, it's quite obvious they have it!  It's just supreme confidence in one's ability, I sometimes feel.

This is all strangely related to the perennial 'along or across the rows' debate, (or perhaps red herring!), I feel - if you play material that requires playing outside the theoretical boundaries of a diatonic scale, there's no obvious rules on the box, you have to make them up. Therefore it's difficult to play according to a musical theory, you have to use the muscle memory.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Jack Campin on September 23, 2017, 11:00:45 PM
This is an insightful piece:

https://bulletproofmusician.com/8-things-top-practicers-do-differently/

Quote
if you play material that requires playing outside the theoretical boundaries of a diatonic scale, there's no obvious rules on the box, you have to make them up. Therefore it's difficult to play according to a musical theory, you have to use the muscle memory.

That may depend on what your ambitions are and what instrument and material you play, but for me it would be disastrous.  I try to make damn sure that muscle memory NEVER gets in the way of perceiving the intervals in the tune.  It's occasionally a temporary last resort but if it's the only way I can remember the tune I know I've only half-memorized it.

e.g. try playing "Misirlou" in four different keys.  Unless you have a CBA you actually have to think about the intervals and how you do them on your instrument (or better, you need to be familiar enough with the instrument that you just do them and don't need to think about them any more).  If you simply remember where your fingers go when playing it on E, without any higher-level concept of what you're doing, you'll be snookered trying to do it on G.

BTW there used to be an article on the web which described Isolde Ahlgrimm's thinking about slow practice (which she used all her life).  She is not well known now, but was a phenomenal interpreter, based on what I've heard.  If anyone can find the article now I'd like to see it again.

http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Ahlgrimm-Isolde.htm
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: playandteach on September 24, 2017, 12:08:31 AM
In the first, a musician is such a good sight reader that they have learned to concentrate like mad on reproducing the dots. 

In the second, the performer relies on mainly muscle memory, propped up by knowledge of musical theory and structure if they have it. 
I don't agree with these two comments, Chris. A good sight reader doesn't concentrate on reproducing the dots - they're a good sight reader, which means that they have extra capacity for focusing on other things such as phrasing and ensemble awareness whilst the notes are taken care of.
And, as Jack has said, those who excel at playing from memory are normally fully equipped to hear the tune freshly in their heads - whereas the readers might need visual memory too once the sheet music goes.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: squeezy on September 24, 2017, 01:09:05 AM
That may depend on what your ambitions are and what instrument and material you play, but for me it would be disastrous.  I try to make damn sure that muscle memory NEVER gets in the way of perceiving the intervals in the tune.  It's occasionally a temporary last resort but if it's the only way I can remember the tune I know I've only half-memorized it.

e.g. try playing "Misirlou" in four different keys.  Unless you have a CBA you actually have to think about the intervals and how you do them on your instrument (or better, you need to be familiar enough with the instrument that you just do them and don't need to think about them any more).  If you simply remember where your fingers go when playing it on E, without any higher-level concept of what you're doing, you'll be snookered trying to do it on G.

Yes Jack Campin, yes ... this is absolutely the crux of what is being discussed.  Muscle memory is simply a way of accurately reproducing a series of mechanical processes with the hand ... it only has any musicality in it if it is first connected to a brain that understands music.

Whether you are a reader or a player by ear ... the thing you need to train first and foremost is your inner musician which lives in the brain ... the second thing you need to train is a way of getting the notes provided by that inner musician out on to a musical instrument (or voice) by mechanical means (the fingers and arms of melodeon players)

A mistake many make is to try and make the physical second bit the primary focus of music practice while ignoring the first until too late - a direct result of classical music dominating music teaching in the west.  The inner musician can practice simply by thinking about music, understanding the relationship between notes and chords and what that will sound like when played or sung.  This is the part that is important in folk music the world around, but deemed only for the special few by the classical music world.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Anahata on September 24, 2017, 07:58:56 AM
A mistake many make is to try and make the physical second bit the primary focus of music practice while ignoring the first until too late - a direct result of classical music dominating music teaching in the west.  The inner musician can practice simply by thinking about music, understanding the relationship between notes and chords and what that will sound like when played or sung. This is the part that is important in folk music the world around, but deemed only for the special few by the classical music world.

Only when classical music is taught badly, especially at school level, which unfortunately it is, often by teachers who are second-rate musicians and sometimes not particularly good teachers either. I'm not denigrating all teachers, by the way, before half of Melnet jumps on me....

I suppose there's an agenda to keep up a supply of rank-and-file orchestral musicians, who can sightread anything accurately and have enough technique to play music in whatever way a conductor asks for, instead of just imposing their own personal playing style on everything they do.

A more positive view (and I think this is actually closer to the truth) is that the focus on technique while learning is precisely so you DON'T have to think about it while performing.

What western classical music teaching currently doesn't have enough of is listening skills: playing by ear and improvising, for example. That used not to be the case: there are many areas of music where improvisation used to be normal.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Anahata on September 24, 2017, 08:14:59 AM
A good sight reader doesn't concentrate on reproducing the dots - they're a good sight reader, which means that they have extra capacity for focusing on other things such as phrasing and ensemble awareness whilst the notes are taken care of.
Seconded.
You only have to think of what happens when you read English - you don't have to concentrate on producing the sounds, and (usually) you don't have to read aloud to hear what you are saying. You can glance at a whole sentence and get its meaning. Good music sight readers can do the same - you don't see notes, you see whole phrases. A good test of that is whether you can recognise a tune that you know by just looking at the dots, or look at a tune you don't know and get a feel for whether it's a good one.

Quote
And, as Jack has said, those who excel at playing from memory are normally fully equipped to hear the tune freshly in their heads - whereas the readers might need visual memory too once the sheet music goes.
Hearing it in you head is something which I think you tend to learn if you can either sing at sight or play another instrument. If you only play one instrument you can get away with "this blob here means put my finger there", but that gets hard work when you have to do it all again for a second instrument. If you can read music "in your head" and you can play all your instruments by ear, then you can read music on all your instruments.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: george garside on September 24, 2017, 10:45:02 AM
I don't sing (voice like a crow)  and don't play other instruments  but can 'hear' a tune in my head and hum or whistle it . I visualise the process of playing by ear as much the same as singing. You think it and play it i.e. the instructions automatically go down the arm to the fingers to make the box reproduce the sound you have stored in the head.  This must in some way be akin to singing as to sing a tune/song you don't send any conscious instructions to the gob to make it happen eg open wider, purse lips, take a breatg or whatever - you just 'think' it and  the gob operates as required/

Those who  just think in terms of learning tunes  rather than learning to play the instrument are unlikely to develop that skill  and basic stuff like being able to play whatever scales the instrument is capable of  are essential.  A test of this is to be able to play a tune you have in the head in any of the instruments keys  i.e transpose on the hoof.

george
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Boxhead on September 24, 2017, 11:09:45 AM
It's interesting, I was discussing this inner musician thing with a very accomplished box player recently (who incidentally does not at all read music, and could wipe the floor with many who can, though thankfully this person lacks that competitive mindset)

On instruments I have been 'trained' on there is a certain amount of 'this blob means put that finger there' going on, though of course with say piano you have to consider fingering and on classical guitar not only would you have to consider fingering but also the multitude of places of playing that note.

But melodeon is different for me, I would be hard pushed to find any particular notes if you asked me, though I can read music fluently and have got a few hundred tunes down from memory. I cant really play the scales.

When learning from notation on box, I sing the tune in my mind from the dots and then transfer that onto the melodeon, it has to go through that additional layer of 'singing in the mind' rather than going directly through to the fingers straight away.

I have a quick ear ( even if I say so myself) and learn most of my trad tunes from sessions and recordings but often fuzz over the details and dusty corners of a tune, sometimes leading to 'malprogramming' which as we all know is a lot harder to undo. I'm learning to zoom in the harder bits first, making sure I get them straight from the get go. The easy bits are the easy bits, I don't worry too much about them.

 Breaking things down into sections and slow repetition usually works. I strongly need to hold the first few notes of a new tune in my mind so I can start it. A title helps a lot to enable me to drag it out of the memory banks.

I've been learning The Starry Lane To Monaghan by ear recently and it has taken about 5 days of hard work, zooming in and out of the tune. I found slowing this tune to half speed really helped me catch the details. Being an Ed Reavy tune it messes with your expectations and doesn't quite adhere to the usual trad cliches my brain would expect. Quite often we think we are hearing the tune but it's only when we start to play it we find out how much of it we are really hearing.

An upcoming gig or (even more so) a sit down concert where people are actually listening provides a goal and encourages focus as it is not much fun to mess up in these kind of situations

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Julian S on September 24, 2017, 04:01:54 PM
When I first started playing, I learnt virtually all my tunes by ear - maybe mislearning (or malprogramming!) sometimes, but somehow those tunes always have stuck better than the ones I have learnt from dots alone. Carrying the tune in the head is critical for me.
I'm currently working on the Rob Harbron tune 'Rain on the Woodpile '- which I originally learnt by ear in an Andy Cutting workshop, then acquired the dots, and finally listened loads of times to Leveret playing it. The challenge for me is to remain true to Rob Harbron's composition, but also put my own stamp on it -and of course the Leveret approach to tunes is pretty instructive !
The comments in this discussion have been incredibly helpful (and a great diversion from the questionable joys of an imminent housemove). Thanks to all ! Whether I'll ever get to perform Rob's tune is another matter - but if I do I want to do it justice.

J

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Chris Brimley on September 24, 2017, 09:13:46 PM
Wow, lots of really interesting points coming out here.

Jack, I echo the comments about your insights, which are really helpful - I think the article about slow practice is particularly useful in getting a piece to performance standard quickly.

When I talked about good sight-readers, I was certainly not denigrating them - in fact I'm full of admiration for those who can assimilate so much data so quickly and interpret it at the same time.  Being able to impart feeling while doing this is certainly a greatly useful skill.   I was just saying that that was not really the thing I was trying to discuss in this thread. 

I'm also impressed by those who've discussed 'interval thinking', and clearly use it regularly in their playing.  I think in fact that many players, including 'players by ear', are doing it, perhaps even unconsciously. However again, this is a slightly different matter, unless those who use it claim that they are doing it every time they perform.

I suppose that the issue I'm honing in on is this - when you really good performers are playing, what are you actually thinking about?  My hunch is that actually you're not thinking about individual notes, or intervals, or memorising scores.  You don't need to, because you learned all that in practice and put it in your subconscious muscle memory, ready to bring out.  I'd go further and suggest that actually it doesn't matter a lot how you started off learning the piece - by dots, by ear, or by intervals, whatever - because by the time you've got to this stage you've reliably learned the muscle memory 'not to get it wrong'.  Sure the sounds coming out may well be interpreted by you as you play them in terms of intervals, or pure 'music', but that's not how you got there.

So for me a relatively recent lesson in performance skills is to rely on the subconscious - if it's not there, you shouldn't be playing the piece yet.  The place of the conscious is to concentrate on rhythm, tune structure and feel, but if as a result of nerves it gets to mistrust the subconscious, you'll trip over.  Your conscious and subconscious actually need to make a pact with each other. And this is where the confidence thing comes in, for me - if you believe that you can do it, and you start to enjoy and use that thing in public, then confidence will be breed success.  And I feel this is what sets the true performer apart - they have trained themselves to know they can do it, so therefore they can.

Part of this is to include the audience in your confidence - look at them, take them in, and you find that far from being a threat as the nervous self would have you believe, they're actually on your side, willing you to entertain them.

That's what it seems to me a good performer should perhaps concentrate on - overall effect.  And it's not simply because you need to do it, it's also because by doing so you magically find all the rest becomes second nature (assuming of course you've rehearsed it properly in the first place.)

However, I may be going up a garden path, perhaps it's the wrong direction?  Comments gratefully received!

Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Boxhead on September 25, 2017, 10:26:48 AM
I agree, it's  about 'programming' the subconscious and being able to trust it.

By the time it gets to the stage of playing a tune to an audience Thinking Is The Enemy ! If the work has been done properly then (for me certainly) it is largely a matter of getting one's self out of the way. Whilst paradoxically somehow maintaining control and be able to meld with the other musicians in terms of groove, tempo etc.

 It's certainly not about spewing out a string of notes the same way every single time.

That comment about the pact between the conscious and subconscious rings bells for me, you have to trust it otherwise it all falls down!
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Rees on September 26, 2017, 12:44:56 AM
Last week was spent learning 16 unfamiliar, mostly Welsh and Irish tunes for our new ceilidh band "The Limestone Ploughboys". Learning tunes at 66 years is not the same as at 26! I did however persist and with no band rehearsal the gig was a tremendous success. That was a week's work.
This week I am rehearsing a one-man show for Corbyn Nights, a Labour Party fundraiser. Totally new set, a week's work.
Next week I am rehearsing some new Zydeco with the five piece band, Joe Le Taxi - a week's work.
That's entertainment.

People ask why I no longer take on tuning and repairs.
In my leisure time, I build melodeons.
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Tone Dumb Greg on September 26, 2017, 02:38:42 PM
Last week was spent learning 16 unfamiliar, mostly Welsh and Irish tunes for our new ceilidh band "The Limestone Ploughboys".

Will you remember them for long if you don't play them regularly?
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Thrupenny Bit on September 26, 2017, 05:20:41 PM
I find if I learn something quickly it can go equally quickly, if I take a long time to learn something it will stick.
I noticed this trait when I used to teach sub aqua many moons ago, those that really struggled and got there in the end had embedded their skills, whereas the fast learners were also fast forgetters.
Curious thing memory and the learning process......
Q
Title: Re: Performance Skills
Post by: Rees on September 26, 2017, 09:24:52 PM
Last week was spent learning 16 unfamiliar, mostly Welsh and Irish tunes for our new ceilidh band "The Limestone Ploughboys".

Will you remember them for long if you don't play them regularly?

Exactly my friend! The only way forward is to practice the whole set at least twice a week until the next gig.