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Author Topic: Performance Skills  (Read 19520 times)

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butimba

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #100 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.
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Steve_freereeder

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #101 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
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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #102 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.
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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #103 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
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butimba

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #104 on: September 23, 2017, 06:34:40 PM »

Absolutely spot-on advice! Your last sentence resonates with me too!  :|bl

 :D
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Chris Brimley

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #105 on: September 23, 2017, 06:49:55 PM »

Yes, that was all very good advice, and thanks, Butimba.

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playandteach

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #106 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.
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Chris Brimley

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #107 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.
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Jack Campin

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #108 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
« Last Edit: September 23, 2017, 11:09:33 PM by Jack Campin »
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playandteach

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #109 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.
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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #110 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.
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Anahata

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #111 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.
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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #112 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.
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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #113 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.

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #114 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

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #115 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

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Chris Brimley

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #116 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!

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #117 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!

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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #118 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.
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Re: Performance Skills
« Reply #119 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?
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