Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts: smart, funny, thoughtful, and at times mindbending. All artfully mixed and mastered into great storytelling that teaches. Here’s an episode on music and the brain that should be required listening for musicians. Covers music and the brain, music and language, sound as touch, and musical DNA. Hope you like it as much as I did.
This is an excellent musical performance, and interesting to boot! The frame drum solo at the beginning drew me right in, and when Michel Godard began to play the serpent I was entranced. The serpent is an ancient low-voiced instrument similar to the Medieval cornetto, and it produces a mesmerizing sound in the hands of a master like Godard (see the vid below or listen to the mp3).
While at the festival (I was there to critique groups and give a couple clinics on my investigation into practice), I got the chance to chat with Rob Klevan, long-time education director at the fantabulous Monterey Jazz Festival. He turned me on to a new app and interviews that you HAVE to check out if you’re interested in jazz, or any kind of music practice for that matter. This weekend I got to meet one of the featured players, Sal Cracchiolo, before he went up to play a smoking set with the always funky Tower of Power.
This thing goes deep.
Several months ago I spoke with the fantastic jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen about practice. She mentioned that one thing she liked to do was practice with drones, using an Indian instrument called a tanpura (also tampura). She said that playing against a drone was a great way to train your ear/horn coordination. Practicing with a drone allows you to really feel how it sounds to play every note against the tonic, throughout your range. It’s meditative.
When I hear a great practice idea, I try it, and I’ve been using this one for a while and absolutely love it. I almost immediately noticed a greater ability to match pitch (my fellow musicians mentioned it in rehearsal), and a deeper awareness of sound in general. Part of the reason for this is that playing with the drone makes me aware of where the horn is naturally out of tune, whether because of the way a horn is made or because of the quirks of the harmonic series.
Yesterday I had the honor of talking with Sidiki Dembele and his wife, Vivian who helped translating some more difficult concepts (thanks, Sidiki and Vivian!).
Sidiki is a fantastic musician from Abidjan, Ivory Coast in West Africa and now living in Manchester, UK. He plays many instruments (ngoni, balafon, kora…), but his main instrument is the djembe. He overcame some serious hardships and put in an amazing amount of time practicing, and it shows.
Avishai Cohen Talks Practice Jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen first came to my attention when Chad McCullough spoke with me about practice several months ago. I promptly checked him out and was psyched to discover a new favorite jazz trumpet player. He’s one of the most interesting players I’ve heard in a while; definitely check out his albums Triveni and After the Big…
Some research shows that the amount of time doesn’t really matter, although it does matter a little since if you spend zero hours doing something, you’re not going to get better at all. But it turns out that the number of hours practiced doesn’t really matter, it’s all about the quality of your practice. What you do is important, but not how much you do. Duh, right?
This seems like a no-brainer issue, but researchers are notoriously skeptical about common-sense issues. We want to know for sure whether things are true. That’s one of the reasons behind a study by Duke, Simmons, & Cash (2009), titled It’s not how much; it’s how: Characteristics of practice behavior and retention of performance skills. These researchers had 17 graduate and advanced undergraduate piano players practice a 3-measure excerpt of Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra (here’s a clip of Shostakovich himself playing part of it). Here’s the excerpt:
Free Play doesn’t deal directly with music practice, but it is nevertheless an important book for anyone interested in music (or other arts, or life). I strongly believe that improvisation benefits practice. To me, improvising is an essential musical skill, one possessed by musical greats (Hussein, Bach, Shankar, Beethoven, Duke, Mozart, etc.), and is practiced in musical traditions all over the world, as well as by young children who haven’t developed some of the fear associated with improvisation in those overly focused on the written notes. Remember when you drew letters over and over as a young child, taking great care (or not) with the shapes? Now imagine that despite all that practice time forming letters and sounding out words, that you never (ever) spoke extemporaneously. Crazy, right? To me, that’s about the same as practicing scales over and over until they’re memorized, but then never using that tonal material to improvise. Crazy talk! At the end of this review is a link to an mp3 of my improv group Meh! playing an improvised story with Nachmanovich.
A new piece of research shows that the “inherently unpleasant” idea about deliberate music practice may not be entirely true. In fact, we may continue to learn when we’re doing something completely different from that which we’re practicing.
No quotes, few words of mine so you can get to what Wynton Marsalis has to say (and sing):
If you cherish art, music, freedom, laughter, poetry, and masterful performance, you need to watch this.
This post will give you a quick tutorial on how to slow down a fast tune with Audacity so you can learn it by ear more easily.
If you’ve listened to any Clifford Brown, the fantastic jazz trumpeter, you’ll know he’s able to play tasty, tasty licks at burning speeds. The first CB solo I tried to learn was from his tune, Blues Walk (click to hear a snippet of the solo), but it was way too fast. I imported the whole tune to Audacity, edited it so only his solo remained, then slowed it down (sometimes by as much as 50%!). After nailing it at a slow tempo, I’d gradually speed up until I could play it at full speed. This will work for anything you want to learn by ear, a skill that too many students don’t have in their tool belt because our current music education system has tied them to the notes on the page. This is a handicap. Use your ears. Please!
Before you pay your fee at the Green Mill–the famous jazz club in Chicago (and the birthplace of slam poetry) where gangster Al Capone hung out sometimes–a beefy guy with an impressive mustache, leather vest and bear claw necklace from Alaska will tell you that when the music starts there is to be NO talking….