Are these 5 musicians cliches true or false?

Sex, drugs and rock n roll are what musicians are all about, right? Wrong! Busting these 5 musicians cliches. 
  1. Musicians are lazy: It actually takes a tremendous amount of hard work to make it as a musician, from the many hours of practicing to the very few days off.

    Most finish work between 10pm an 2am most nights, so they sleep in the morning. Unless you think nurses and policemen are lazy when they rest after a night shift, you should assume musicians worked hard the night before when they do so.

  2. Musicians are drug addicts or alcoholics: There may be more of a tendency for this cliche to be true in certain styles of music and for particular instruments, but unless you personally witness signs of addiction, you can trust musicians to be clean.

  3. Musicians are poor: Most of them tend to be in the lower and middle class bracket. People also believe that musicians who work freelance don't have job security, but a musician's income tends to remain approximately the same from year to year.

  4. Musicians have a big ego: Many performers apply for gigs all the time, which results in frequent rejections, and keeps egos grounded.

    Because of the pressure of performing, musicians are often perfectionists, striving to do better at all times. This leads them to maintain a healthy, or sometimes even fragile, ego.

  5. Musicians are unreliable: Reliability is actually one of the most crucial aspects of a musician's life.

    Many instrumentalists work in three of four different places every single day, so they must show up at the right place at the right time.



      What undergrad music majors need to know before learning piano

      Undergrad music majors do not want to learn to play piano.

      They don't see the point. They are too busy with classes, and they'd rather practice their own instrument than the piano.

      On the other hand, it is the rare professional musician who isn't happy to know how to play the piano, or who doesn't regret to not have learned the piano.

      How about having students interview their teacher or a professional performer on their use of the piano in their professional life?

      When students hear professional musicians talk about the importance of playing the piano, they can only become more convinced of the necessity of learning it, than when they hear that from pianists.

      Picture from http://www.soongpianostudio.com/policy.html


      Accompanists: How to handle these 4 situations

      Here are four situations that often happen to accompanists, with ways to deal with them.
      1. You show up to play a lesson and no one is there: Immediately call the student to remind them to contact you next time that happens.

        If it occurs a second time, call the student again, and mention it to their teacher. If it happens yet a third time, either ask the teacher to directly get in touch with you next time, or talk to someone at a higher rank than you.

      2. Your students want to rehearse with you when their lesson is canceled: make the students aware that if you do rehearse with them in place of their lesson, you won't attend the make up lesson.

        If the teacher asks you later to still do a make up, you may do so, but in place of that week's rehearsal.

      3. Your student scheduled a jury without telling you: Take the bull by the horn, and schedule all of the juries yourself. As soon as the sign up sheet is posted, call every single one of your students to arrange their jury time.

        The advantage of doing that is that you can actually put your students back to back, instead of waiting around in between juries.

        When you can't get a hold of someone, sign up for a jury time anyways. Chances are that time will work for them, and if it doesn't, you can most likely swap it with another  one of your student's time.

        If swapping doesn't work, you can be sure that your student will know to keep you involved in the process. 

      4. You're not getting paid: Before you play with someone, agree with them in writing on a payment method and on a schedule for it. To be on the safe side, ask to be paid before your service is done, such as at the dress rehearsal, or right before a jury.

        Many schools have a policy which states that should a student not pay their accompanist, they will receive an incomplete for their lessons, or they won't graduate. Print up that policy and post it outside your studio.

        When a problem ensues, you can find leverage by telling your student that if they don't pay you within a certain frame time, you will let the university policy take care of it. Students' teachers are usually of great help in such situations, so involve them when needed.

      Picture from http://crossfitscottsdale.com/homeblog/2011/02/i-jerks/baby-lifting-weights/


      Why students need to find their neutral

      We each talk at the same average volume, with the same average level of energy. That's our neutral level of speaking.

      Teachers spend years asking their students to do "more" on their instruments, while students don't understand why when they do give more, it's still not enough.

      That's because young singers and musicians wrongly assume that the neutral for their instruments needs to be the same as the neutral for their speaking voice. 

      Teachers need to tell students that on the contrary, they have to plan their neutral differently when they play than when they speak.

      The clearer the expectation, the clearer the result.

      Picture from http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/37269-popup.html


      How to prepare your score for your first pit rehearsal

      Here are 4 important things to write in your piano-conductor score before your first pit rehearsal, so that your musicians don't end up playing a guessing game.

      1. How many beats to count off at the top of a piece: Elements to factor into your decision are the speed of the piece, and the amount of time you have between the previous piece and the piece you're on. Consistency from piece to piece is best.

      2. Change of patterns: Indicate any section where you switch your conducting from 1 to 2 or vice versa, particularly if that change is not written in the score. Plan any actual changes of meters carefully too.

      3. Hand cues:  When a passage needs a hand cue for clarity, make sure to mark the notes you won't play.

        Plan ahead of time where you want the musicians to sit, so that you know which hand to cue with for each section.

      4. Instrumental parts that need a cue: Cue a section when they first start playing, when they've had a long rest, and before an important solo.

        Not all cues are marked in the conductor's score. Make sure to listen through the show, and compare each part with your own to add any important cues you're missing in your score. 
      The more prepared you are, the easier the rehearsal will be. 



      5 summer jobs for musicians

      Summer time is a prime time for musicians to work. Here are 5 music job options.
      1. Summer camps: Day camps and night camps range from two weeks to the whole summer. There are camps for all styles of music, from classical, music theatre, rock, to jazz.

      2. Theatre: Many theatres hire instrumentalists and music directors for the summer season. They are usually in smaller towns, so they provide housing. They run from May to August.

      3. Festivals: Even non-music festivals need musicians. Find the ones in your area on websites such as festivalnet.com. The sooner you get in touch with the organizers, the better.

      4. Weddings: Email local contractors and venues with your info and audio samples. Advertise yourself online on national wedding websites such as GigMasters.

      5. Busking: learn about the busking laws, how to make money, and how to pick your spot on this website.
      Who said summer time was for vacation?

      Picture from http://www.jeffreymcfadden.com/


      Can you be creative when you play a piece?

      Is there room for creativity when you play a piece you didn't write?

      Are you creative when your decisions come from knowledge of music and theory?

      Can you be inspired and not creative?

      Picture from http://seekingsales.org/alternative-methods/creativity-will-bring-in-more-sales/


      How to correct your students

      The Leadership Freak blog recently brought to my attention the use of minor corrections.

      When we give minor corrections to our students, our students end up loosing their trust in their own judgment.

      They give up their sense of control over a piece, and wait to get all the answers from us. They only learn to play this note in this piece in that way. How will that help them to perform future pieces better?

      Instead, when we look at the big picture of their playing, we can tie minor corrections together into one bigger idea.

      That way, students learn the steps to making the right decisions by themselves, and will transfer that knowledge to the pieces they'll play next.

      Picture from http://oxfordhousecollegeistanbul.wordpress.com/


      How the masters handled life as musicians

      When you doubt your work as a musician, it is comforting to remember that even the masters had to prove themselves.

      Here are some anecdotes taken from "The Book of Musical Anecdotes" by Norman Lebrecht.

       "To the question 'How do you do,' he would often answer, 'As well as a poor musician can do.'

      "Beethoven once found Streicher's daughter practising the Variations in C minor of 1806. After he had listened for a while he asked her, 'By whom is that!' 'By you.' 'Such nonsense by me! O Beethoven, what an ass you were!"

       "When La Traviata was a failure at Venice, Varesi, the baritone, and other interpreters of the work, thinking to console  Verdi, paying him their condolences; but he only exclaimed, 'Make them to yourself and your companions, who have not grasped my music.'

       "At a Philharmonic rehearsal... at which one of his Serenades was played, the orchestra grew visibly restless, indicating disapproval of this composition. Brahms stepped to the director's stand and said, 'Gentlemen, I am aware that I am not Beethoven- but I am Johannes Brahms.'

      Ethel Smyth praised one of Grieg's works but suggested that the coda of one movement was not of the same quality as the rest. 'Ah yes,' said Grieg, shrugging his shoulders, 'at that point inspiration gave out, and I had to finish without.' 

      Picture from http://www.smvblog.com/nonita/?m=201005

      When to play for your friend for free

      Here are the aspects to consider before accepting to play for your friend for free.
      1. FOR A LESSON: Give one for free. When they become regular, find something your friend can teach you to make a trade.

      2. FOR A WEDDING: When your performing is considered your wedding gift to the couple, go ahead. For family members, it's best not to play at all so that you can fully share their special moment with them.

      3. FOR A CONCERT: Avoid playing a concert gratis because of the large required amount of practicing, rehearsing and performing anxiety, unless it's a trade.

      4. FOR A RECORDING: Play for free on one or two songs. When you play for the whole recording, make sure to get a percentage of the profits.

      5. FOR AN AUDITION: Do accompany an audition unpaid for your friend. Usually your friend will return the favor by taking you to lunch or coffee.

      Picture from http://www.makinghistory.upenn.edu/happenings?page=17


      12 dance moves at the piano

      Audiences believe that the more a pianist moves while playing, the better he or she is.

      Here are your dance moves options for pop, rock and music theatre.
      1. HEAD moves up and down: This is the simplest move and can be applied to the most types of music.

      2. HEAD moves up and down facing the audience: Apply to emphasize your solo, or when the band is in cut time.

      3. SHOULDERS move up and down: Adopt on pieces with accents on the offbeat, or accents on beats 2 and 4.

      4. SHOULDERS alternate: Make this move with one shoulder going forward while the other is backward, and alternate them.

      5. SHOULDERS move in and out: to be used by women only, move shoulders together toward the chest, then back.

      6. BACK moves to and away from the piano: Employ for a cut time section, or when emphasis is on beats 1 and 3.

      7. BACK moves sideways left to right:  works best for a fun piece with few chords. It's an ab workout!

      8. BACK moves diagonally away and to the piano: to be used for a stop time section.

      9. LEG moves up and down: best done with the right leg, this move starts from the thigh, with the foot falling flat on the floor.

      10. FOOT moves sideways: The heel of the foot stays put, while the front of the foot moves from one side to the other.

      11. Stand up: standing up while playing the piano is a very powerful move best used during your solo.

      12. Combination:  You can mix and match any of these moves, such as #2 and #10 together, or #1 #9 and #10 together. 
      Pianists, you are now ready to ROCK IT!

        Picture from http://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/synthesizer.html


        Student versus professional recitals

        Music schools at universities require students to give solo recitals.

        Students spend months preparing brand new pieces, to present them only at their one required performance.

        But professional musicians play the same repertoire many times over.

        Is performing a program only once really providing students with an understanding of what it's like to be a professional performer?

        Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/65211201@N00/409239133/


        10 notes on music directing

        Because books on music directing are rare, you have to look for advice and suggestions in other books.

        Here are 10 notes directly quoted from the book Notes on Directing by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich. To apply to music directors, modifications are indicated in italic.
        1. "Learn to love a musical you don't particularly like: You may be asked to music direct a musical that, for any number of reasons, you don't think is very good. In such cases it is better to focus and build on the musical's virtues than attempt to repair its inherent problems."

        2. "Don't try to please everybody: With both the authority and the responsibility to music direct well, you will inevitably have to make some unpopular decisions. Accept the grumbling. Be strong and calm in the face of opposition. Realize that normal conversation includes a good portion of complaint."

        3. "Assume that everyone is in a permanent state of catatonic terror: This will help you approach the impossible state of infinite patience and benevolence that actors and others expect from you."

        4. "You perform most of the day: As a music director, you are there to explain things to people and to tell them what to do. Speak clearly. Speak briefly."

        5. "Don't work on new material when people are tired. Review what you have already done."

        6. "End rehearsals on an upbeat note: Consider thanking each person individually for his or her commitment and contribution."

        7. "Sincerely praise actors early and often: Rather than correcting your actors all the time, get into the habit of frequently telling them what they are doing right."

        8. "Never, NEVER bully... either by shouting or sarcasm or, worst of all, imitation." 

        9. "Give actors corrective notes in private. This will not only prevent damage caused by embarassing them in front of others, it will make them feel good to get individual attention."

        10. "Include every single member of the cast in your note sessions. Surely you know that in the theatre, silence is invariably taken for disapproval."


        How to list musicians on your program

        Concert programs often read:

        John Smith, cello
        Emily Dovay, collaborative piano


        John Smith, cellist
        Emily Dovay, collaborative pianist 

        Collaborative piano is not an instrument.  The piano is.

        And people who play it are pianists.
        No more collaborative than the people they play with. 

        Picture from http://www.myparkingsign.com/Parking-Signs/Funny-Parking-Signs.aspx


        Do you get intimidated?

        As musicians, situations were we get to work with famous artists do come along. When you are in that position, do you get intimidated?

        During an episode of "Behind the Scenes with Oprah," Oprah mentioned that what she admired most about one of her producers was how she never got intimidated, no matter how famous the guest on the show was.

        What creates intimidation is the desire to show respect. There is also the risk that if you act too casual, the artist might think that you believe to be as great as him.

        But at the same time, being intimidated might come in the way of your own work, either because you can't focus, or because you might hesitate before speaking up.

        Oprah's producer said "when I work with very famous people, I try to forget who they are and talk to them as if they were just regular folks."

        When she was seen later on the show dealing with a disagreement with Liza Minelli, she definitely came across as both professional and unafraid, and respectful and down to earth. A model to strive for.

        Picture from http://listsoplenty.com/blog/?p=1742


        Are you working too hard?

        There are two kinds of hard work, the doable hard, and the destructive hard.

        In his fantastic book Axiom, author Bill Hybels mentions some of his team members speaking about hard work.

        "As they talked about their stressors, their energy actually increased, their eyes brightened, and their posture seemed to straighten a bit. They'd use language like, "This is exhilirating!" "It's hard, but it's fun!"

        He also brings up other team members who "talked about how they were losing sleep at night. They were experiencing anxiety and increased bouts of fear and despondency. They were having escapist thoughts. They were worried that they'd lose their jobs if they didn't set new excellence records."

        Here are some examples of the two kinds of hard for musicians.   

        Doable hard: Create a private teaching studio     
        Destructive hard: Reschedule every single missed lesson              

        Doable hard: Make a living as a musician                
        Destructive hard: Refuse the gigs that don't pay well enough

        Doable hard: Practice a piece until you know it well
        Destructive hard: Practice a piece until absolute perfection

        Doable hard: Create a band or a chamber ensemble     
        Destructive hard: Solely do all the planning, but don't get paid more

        Make sure to keep in check with the kind of hard work you're doing, to stay motivated and not get buried under your work.

        Picture from http://nolongerquivering.com/2010/06/19/mayhem-on-the-homefront-update-on-everything/


        4 mistakes to avoid when promoting yourself

        The Internet is only an amazing tool to make yourself known as long as you avoid these four common mistakes.
        1. Act as if it's a new thing: Don't say "these days, it's all about social media." Social media isn't that new anymore, and your audience won't care to follow you if they think it's a new discovery to you.

        2. Talk about it as if you were forced into it: "So, apparently, the thing to do is to use social media, so there, you have it." If you don't want to be a part of it, why should your public?

        3. Use quotes signs: If you emphasize a word with a quote sign, as in "you can be our "friend" on facebook," your audience won't want to because you just made the whole thing sound like a joke.

        4. Use the wrong terminology: People don't "join" your facebook page, they "like" it. And there is no such thing as a twitter friend. Do your research!
        Only once you commit fully to social media you'll realize why people urged you to use it.

        Picture from http://www.corbisimages.com/Enlargement/42-15133533.html


          How to date a musician

          I am a musician and I'm married to one, so here are the few things I've learned along the way.
          1. Daily practice: Most musicians practice every single day, so know in advance that you might never have a full day off with your musician. Weekend getaways and vacations can be rare as well.

            When he is practicing, wait before he's done with his piece before talking to him. If you don't, it's the same as interrupting him mid sentence.

            If he is using amplification, it's ok for you to ask him to turn the volume down.  You can also ask him to practice in a different room so you can go about your own life at the same time.

            Remember that when a musician is practicing, it is work. Don't make fun of his mistakes, avoid making comments on the way he's practicing, and don't ask him to move on to another song. He is working.

          2. Before an important concert: A lot of practical details need to be dealt with when a musician is getting ready for a big performance, so the more you can help with those, the more grateful she will be afterward.

            Preparing for an important concert is a stressful time, so if you notice her becoming short or tense on the big day, don't take it personally.

          3. After the concert: Make sure to be one of the firsts to congratulate your musician when he steps off stage. You may think that you are in the way of his audience greeting him, but your opinion matters much more to him, and your presence will comfort him.

            Anything that happens after the concert is part of the concert, so whether he wants to go out and celebrate or go home and rest, follow his lead.

            Once you're alone with him, make sure to get into the details of what you liked about the performance. This will help him relive the concert so he can get a sense of pride and accomplishment from it.

          4. If you're a musician: When you're a musician too, you will know if your partner is practicing efficiently or not, or if she played that concert well or not.

            The most important thing to remember is to not give her your opinion unless she asks for it. If you really must speak up, use extra care and gentleness. Remember that your primary role is to love and support her, not to be her teacher.

            Never compete with her,  compare the gigs you each get, or wonder who's better. 
          If you follow these guidelines, you might end up to be as lucky as I am today to celebrate another anniversary with my musician!

          Picture from


          How to go from playing solo to accompanying

          The aspects of the music you focus on when you accompany someone are not the same as when you play solo. Here are two of the key aspects to remember.
          1. Don't compete for the melody line: As solo pianists we attend to the melody with love and care. When the melody is doubled on both the solo instrument and on your part and you bring out the melody, you will make your soloist nervous.

            For example, your singer will over sing if you emphasize the doubling of his line; your flute player will barely make it to the end of the phrase if you decide to take extra time to reach the high note; or your cello player may play out of tune because you played the line straight through.

            When the score doubles the melody, put your attention on the harmony, and shape the chord progression to match your soloist's phrasing.

          2. Adjust your dynamics for the soloist's lines: When you play on your own, the decision for dynamics and phrasings come from your own music line.

            But when you accompany, your line might call for a crescendo just as the soloist' line will get to a lower register; if you started you crescendo then, the soloist's line wouldn't be heard at all.

            Other times, you'll see pp markings on your part while the soprano is supposed to hit that high note; if you played pp then she wouldn't be able to hear the harmonic support from the piano that she needs to be confident.
          Playing with someone is not what makes you a collaborative pianist, but playing with your soloist's needs always in mind does. 

          Picture from http://www.musolife.com/piano-accompanist.html


          What school of musics can learn from the military

          Today I saw teachers perform with their students at an informal daytime rock concert at the military school of music.

          We all adjust to the people we play with, so it is such an opportunity for growth when students get to perform with pros in small ensembles.

          When will classical music schools do the same?


          How to ask for your money

          What to do when it's time to get paid and you're not seeing any sign of your money?

          The most graceful way to deal with the situation is by asking an indirect question. Make sure to use your most neutral tone of voice when using the following examples.
          • Were you planning on paying me today or next time?
          • I can't remember, did you pay for this week last week?
          • Will you need cash back today?
          • Will you want me to send you an invoice?
          • Did you need my address to send me the check?
            Most people genuinely forget that it's time for payment, so they'll be grateful when you kindly help them come through for you.

              Picture from http://www.nightingalebullies.com/purchase.html


              4 tools for musicians speaking onstage

              Musicians understand the importance of practicing, and yet most do not practice their onstage speaking.

              You should always rehearse what you will say because if the audience likes you, they will like the music. If they don't care about what you're saying or the way you're saying it, they won't care for the music. Here are the four basics of onstage speaking.
              1. Tone of voice: If you ever had to introduce your fellow musicians, you know how boring a list of names gets. The number one mistake people make is have their voice go down in intonation at the end of each name. Keep your voice going up every time you end a sentence.

              2. Energy: If you speak on stage the same way you do at home, it will come across as if you'd rather be home. Think of your voice in terms of dynamics: your regular speaking volume is p or mp, so make sure to bring it up to at least mf on the stage. The longer you speak, the more volume and excitement you need to bring forth.

              3. Stories: If you simply state facts such as players names and titles of songs, your audience will think that you are speaking because you have to and not because you want to. That's why you need to share a few real life stories. It can be anything from the time your band lost the music of the piece you're about to play, to how a tornado alarm went off in the middle of that song, etc.

              4. Your body speaks too: Don't look at the floor, or just at the other performers. Stand tall, ground your two feet to the ground and look directly at your audience. Make sure to finish your speech before you sit back down, or before you walk to your spot.

              Picture from http://sheilagranger.blogspot.com/2011/01/hypnotherapy-for-public-speaking.html


              What military bands can do for your students

              Music teachers, did you know that military bands can come to play concerts and give workshops at your school for free?

              You can ask for a guest soloist, a small chamber group, to a whole band to perform for your students. 
                If you are in the Washington, DC area, read about what the Navy bands offer here and contact them here. The Army bands provides master classes, clinic teams and guest conductors, and you can request their services here.

                You can also take your students on field trips to free military concerts. You can find the Navy bands calendar here, the Army bands schedule here, and the Marine bands here.

                The "President's Own" Marine band also holds a yearly high school concerto competition where the winner gets a soloist feature with the band, and $2,500.


                  Are you doing your job if you're not giving notes?

                  It's rare, but sometimes as a music director you do not have any notes to give after a run.

                  When you're the only person out of the creative team to not have anything to say, you can easily start wondering if you're doing your job right.

                  Things can always get better, so how could you not identify anything to be improved on?

                  Part of your job is to know what's best for your cast and how far they can go. Sometimes, not making remarks is the best way to provide your actors with confidence in their singing.

                  It is easy to think that when we are only giving positive comments, those do not count as notes. But notes are anything you hear, either good or to be improved on, that you pass on to your cast members.

                  As long as you usually speak up, you are doing your job just right even when for once you do not give any criticism. You just don't want to mess with a good thing!

                  Picture from http://der-prasiden.blog.friendster.com/


                  How to join the Music Directors Community

                  I am happy to make it official, I am writing a book on music directing! There are no books on the topic, so it's time music directors have their own resource.

                  I am currently interviewing music directors on their experience. If you are an experienced music director and have couple hours to talk about your job with me, please contact me at geraldineinabottle [at] gmail [dot] com.

                  You can find the interview I did of New York music director Dave Hahn on his awesome website Musician Wages.

                  I am also very excited to announce the launch yesterday of a new Twitter profile for music theater directors! You can find it @MusicTheatreMD, and by using #MusicTheatreMD when you write about music theatre.

                  Actors, directors and choreographers, I want to hear all of your thoughts on music directors too, so comment and tweet away!

                  Picture from http://woroworld.blogspot.com/
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