Archive for October, 2011
In my September 12 post, I offered an exercise that has you practicing two-string sweeps with triplet arpeggios. Today, I have a suggestion for how you can expand upon that exercise.
Once you get comfortable playing the triplets at a decent clip, try converting to four-note, sixteenth note patterns. This has you pulling off on the fourth note in each group. Here is a before and after comparison:
You can keep the original ending (expanded to eighth-note triplets), or maintain the even sixteenth-note pulse by coming up with a new one. The most consistent ending would be a simple arpeggio:
However, I prefer something a little more melodic:
In the wake of the passing of one visionary, we commemorate the passing of another: John Lennon, who would have turned 71 today.
I consider John Lennon to be one of Rock’s two most important figures, along with Frank Zappa. Not only was he a founding member of the most legendary group ever assembled, but his paradoxical manner of being outspoken yet aloof birthed an image which has since ingrained itself in the collective spirit of Rock and Roll.
John was an intensely personal songwriter. From the earliest Beatles material on, each of his songs gave us a peek into his private life. Again, ever the archetypal celebrity, he shunned attention while inviting scrutiny. His masterwork, Plastic Ono Band, opens with a track that places the listener into a quite uncomfortable position, not unlike being at a friend’s house and having to witness a highly emotional confrontation. The effect is profound:
The world is a less interesting place without this man. He was taken away from us when I was only eight years old; but the more I learn of his work, the more I miss him as if I knew him. This is the mark of a great artist.
As a budding guitarist, Billy Gibbons was one of my earliest idols. Every last lick on all of ZZ Top’s first nine albums was ingrained so deeply into my memory, that to this day I could sing along with most of those solos. And it was because he also played some blues harp that I chose to try learning it myself. I picked it up for long enough to learn some simple licks, but didn’t stay with it long.
Most harmonica you hear is played on a diatonic instrument. There are only seven notes available, and you usually have to change instruments to change keys. You can bend notes though, making the diatonic harp well-suited for blues:
Chromatic harmonicas allow the performer access to all twelve notes used in western music. The sound of a chromatic harp is more refined:
And then there’s Howard Levy, who plays in all keys equally comfortably on a diatonic harp. Prepare to be amazed:
Also known as “studio recitals,” performance workshops are private events; your students perform not for a public audience, but for each other. When these sessions are hosted by a prominent guest artist, they’re referred to as “master classes.”
The scope of a workshop is much smaller than that of a public recital. There is no need to secure a venue; there are no invitations to send or refreshments to serve. You can host the event at your teaching studio or home. If your studio is at your home, maybe even add some fun, by hosting a barbecue or screening a concert DVD. Of course, take into account the range of age and maturity within your student base.
As an undergraduate, I studied under Michael Nicolella. Participation in weekly studio recitals was mandatory for all his students. During these meetings, we took turns performing whatever we were currently working on to the best of our ability, and observed Mr. Nicolella as he critiqued our performances. We also had the opportunity to contribute feedback of our own.
I’m not suggesting weekly workshops, but somewhere between monthly and quarterly is a nice pace. You should assume that it takes the equivalent of one school semester for a student to prepare the most difficult of material he’s currently learning. It would be ideal to allow your students to monitor each other’s progress about two or three times during this learning cycle.
When you offer a student’s critique, try to glean just one key point that may benefit all present. For example, a remark like “after bar 48, the tempo gets a little shaky” doesn’t help anyone in the audience; but tips on using a metronome to develop rhythmic accuracy are something multiple people can learn from.
If you feel a quick rehearsal of a passage will yield instant results, then lead your student through the rehearsal; but avoid merely practicing. Example: Steve plays a passage marked with a crescendo, but he could build to a bigger forte. Show him how you want it to sound, then have him play it back a couple of times. Steve’s performance transforms for the better right in front of his peers’ eyes, and they are inspired. What you don’t want to do is isolate and improve poor technique, or work on memorization issues. Those are “practicey” things. Stick to more interpretive things, like dynamics and tone.
Remember what I said earlier about keeping your knowledge to yourself? In studio recitals, you have an opportunity to expand on the lesson material a bit more than usual. If you’ve been dying to explain where the treble clef came from, or tell that joke about how lute players are always tuning, go ahead and release your inner nerd; but relate directly to the material, keep the pace going, and try not allow yourself more than one tangent per session.
With performance workshops, you are adding value to your lessons. Some places, like small private conservatories, might charge for these sessions, calling them a separate class. Decide for yourself whether you include the experience with your usual weekly lesson offerings. Personally, I would offer them as non-mandatory, free bonus sessions. Set a date and take RSVP’s. If three or more are interested, keep the date.
Don’t forget to leave a comment if you have any ideas of your own to share.