Is a musical phrase the same as a spoken phrase?

We teach the concept of a musical phrase by comparing it to a spoken phrase.

However, in order for students to understand phrasing best, it is necessary to point out to them the similarity and the difference between a musical and a spoken phrase.
  • Similarity: The similarity between the two is in the space between the phrases.

    The same way we breathe in between spoken sentences, we need to breathe in between musical phrases as well. Punctuation and cadences relate in a direct way.

  • Difference: The difference between a musical and a spoken phrase is in the actual shape of a phrase.

    The inflection of a musical phrase doesn't change from a country to the next, while the inflection of a spoken phrase clearly changes from a country to the next.

    For example, French speakers emphasize the very end of a phrase, and English speakers emphasize words according to their own accentuation, and neither translates into the shaping of a musical phrase.  
While the space between phrases can be taught through the comparison to spoken phrases, the inside of a musical phrase has its own inner organization, which we need to spell out clearly to our students.


How music makes you happy

Why does music makes us happy?  

One of the most recent studies explains that it's all about the release of dopamine.

"You're following these tunes and anticipating what's going to come next and whether it's going to confirm or surprise you, and all of these little cognitive nuances are what's giving you this amazing pleasure," said Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal.

"The reinforcement or reward happens almost entirely because of dopamine."

So does it mean musicians are happier than non-musicians?

This interview actually states that "there's no evidence that (talented people) have a different brain structure or different wiring than the rest of us initially, although we do know that becoming an expert in anything -- like chess or race-car driving or journalism -- does change the brain and creates circuitry that's more efficient at doing what you're an expert at."

Is there a specific kind of music that makes us all happier?

The author of this article explains that "there is some evidence that our musical tastes may be innate, for example, 4 month-old babies seem to prefer consonant to dissonant music (4), but the evidence doesn’t seem conclusive."

"What I really wanted, but didn’t find, was a study comparing the effects of different genres on various emotions.  Does jazz flute make you happy?  Does emo make you depressed?  Do boy bands make you want to puke?  Big questions, but apparently, scientists have not yet considered them a valuable addition to the knowledge base."

To leave on a happy note, according to this source when you listen to happy music, everyone around you looks happy!

Picture from http://www.maxmusic.net/


Are you not professional when you're not memorized?

The following paragraph comes from a wedding pianist's website, on an article titled "How Much Does a Wedding Pianist Charge?"

"I offer you 5 hours of professional, appropriate, memorized repertoire. You want your professional to interact with your guests, be inviting, approachable, and ensure your guests feel welcome! For weddings/events that may require special music, there would be sheet music on the piano as the only exception."
I personally believe a musician can interact with guests and be inviting while reading music.

I also think that musicians nowadays need to be more versatile than ever, and that it isn't a reasonable expectation to request memory at all times from them.

Picture from http://www.youdidntdidyou.com/Photography_Blog/2010/04/22/wynyard-hall-weddings-its-about-the-brides/


Why muscle memory does not work

As musicians, we spend a lot of time training our body to play the right notes, and to play them with the right sound.

But when we use our body the way we normally do in a different hall or on a different instrument, it doesn't create the same result as it usually does.

It's only when we use our ear the way we typically do, that it makes our body change what it needs to change in order to get the same results as it usually gets. 

Picture from http://www.fast-autos.net/diecast-cars-models/QUEEN-MARY-SHIPBOARD-WOOD-CARVING-MUSICIANS-HANDS_190475431543.html


A director's point of view on music directing

Michael Licata became a director after 25 years as an actor, which included Evita and Sweet Charity on Broadway.

He has directed nearly sixty productions, including The Most Happy Fella starring Sprio Malas, Fiddler on the Roof starring Eddie Mekka, and Gypsy starring Joyce DeWitt, and the tours of Stand by Your Man, and My Way. He is currently the associate artistic director for the West Virginia Public Theatre.

What do you expect from music directors you work with?
I expect them to know the music and the style very well. I expect them to know voices, for example to know if a particular role is within an actor’s vocal range. I also would like them to have a good knowledge of vocal technique and pedagogy, to be able to hear someone sing and say “no, they’re not gonna be able to do a show 8 times a week.”

I expect them to be organized, to know how long they need to teach the music.

They have to be very strong leaders, be passionate about the work and inspire the performers to do the best they possibly can. They also need to be understanding and compassionate of the different levels of skills that people have. If you’re doing a dancing show, understand that the dancers are not skilled singers.

If I say “I want to make a cut, or a change,” I need somebody to know how to do that, and to say yes to it.

What are mistakes you've seen music directors make?
Mistakes I've seen happened where when people weren’t prepared, and didn’t do their homework. They don’t know the music, who to assign parts to. They struggle.

And when they’re not leaders. Music directors have to be type A personalities, be able to take charge, and at the same time, understand that the needs of the director and the choreographer take preference over everything, especially in a musical.

What are some things you wish music directors did less of?

I don’t like to see them patronize performers. That comes back to being tolerant to people with less skills, but directors and choreographers do that too, it’s not isolated to music directors, we’re talking about individual personalities.

What are some things you wish music directors did more of?
They need to have the sensitivity to know when to make the orchestra soft, and when to make them loud; to not make the assumption that the sound man is gonna be able to do it.

The older music directors who have lived through not such sophisticated sound know how to do that, but the younger ones figure the sound man will do it, and they shouldn’t.

What other differences do you find between young music directors and experienced music directors?
You could work with a great young music director and a great older music director, there’s no black and white. But there is something to be said for experience. It’s really a matter of the more experience one has, the more comfortable they’ll be in a rehearsal situation.

Although I’m finding that the new young music directors are more adaptable to the more rock and popular styles, like American Idiot or Rent. Just the youth gives them a better understanding of the music itself.

What makes you want to work with a music director again?
If I like them all, it comes down to the style of the show. If I’m doing a classical piece, I’d want somebody who has a keen understanding of classical music.

If I’m doing a show like Hairspray, I want somebody who can transform a 18 piece band into a 7 piece band and make it sound great. 


How to say no as an accompanist

As collaborative pianists, we are always saying yes to more work than we can chew.

Here is how to say no in these 3 common situations.
  1. No to a gig: When you don't want to take a gig, emphasize how much you wish you could have done it, how sorry you are that you can't, and how you really wish you could have done it. And then make sure to recommend the absolute best players you know for it.

  2. No to a rehearsal or a lesson: To say no to playing for a rehearsal or a lesson, simply say that you are unavailable, without explaining why.

    When people insist, say that you'll double check your schedule, but do not take your calendar out in front of them. Otherwise you run the risk of people taking a peek at it, and of you saying yes before you even had the time to understand what happened.

  3. No to sight reading a piece in public: When someone asks you to sight-read the equivalent of, say, a Rachmaninoff piano concerto in public, ask the soloist what other pieces he or she is working on to hopefully find one that would work for both of you.

    If he or she insists on that one particular piece, say that you'd rather play it at the next class, after you'll have had a few days with it.

Picture from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1023318/Thousands-protesters-create-gigantic-NO-sign-march-Heathrow-expansion.html


4 solutions to memorizing stubborn passages

Here are some common reasons a music spot is hard to memorize, and how to deal with them.
  1. Small differences within similar passages: some passages have only slight differences differentiating them. That makes it tricky to know when to play which, and to remember what comes after each.

    The best solution to memorizing them is to give them a number matching their order in the piece, and play them right next to one another a few times, after saying the number out loud.

    Then call out a number at random, and play the corresponding passage, and repeat, until you can go through all of them automatically. This shouldn't take more than a half hour at most, but it's incredibly efficient.

  2. Long runs: long runs with no pattern need to be learned backward, from the end to the beginning. Put notes into units, for example any arpeggios, or any successive down or up stepwise motion. Memorizing the units will be easier to remember than memorizing single notes.

    You also have to be sure that you are able to sing the line. Unless you can sing a part, you can't play a part.

  3. Counterpoint: When you're dealing with counterpoint, leave one line out and sing it, while playing the other voices as usual. You can do this at any tempo you'd like, just make sure you go through all the voices.

  4. Intricate harmonies: Relying only on muscle memory won't be as helpful as taking the time to really grasp the music. The best way to do that is by singing.

    Play the chords and sing each note that makes it up, from the bottom up. Then play only the bass and sing the rest of the chord.

Picture from http://tipsforclassicalmusicians.com/2010/10/30/how-can-i-memorize-a-40-minute-piece-of-music/


    What piano conducting used to be

    Piano conducting is not a new thing. Here is what it was like "back then," with quotes from the Grove Music Online Dictionary article on conducting.

    Conducting from the keyboard "developed over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, with the growth of orchestra. Mattheson said in 1739: ‘Things always work out better when I both play and sing along than when I merely stand there and beat time. Playing and singing along in this way inspires and enlivens the performers’.

    "The responsibilities of the instrumentalist director eventually extended beyond tempo and beat to include other aspects of performance, like dynamics, articulation, accuracy and affect."

    "Several factors made it advantageous to direct from the keyboard: the keyboard player was often the composer of the music being performed; he often held an administrative post as Kapellmeister or Director; and he coached the singers and accompanied them when they sang."

    "C.P.E. Bach suggests that if the bass part had long notes, the keyboardist might subdivide them to keep the rhythm going for everyone to hear; he also recommends that the keyboard player raise his hands off the keys between notes, both to produce a more forceful sound and so that the rise and fall of his hands would mark the beat."

    "Other authors describe keyboard players marking the beat by bowing at the waist, flapping their elbows, stamping their feet, standing up and waving their arms or even shouting aloud."

    Picture from http://www.brianmicklethwait.com/culture/archives/tv/


    Why rhythm issues are better than pitch issues

    Last week, I asked the music directors group on twitter @MusictheatreMD if they'd rather music direct someone with no pitch or no rhythm.

    Everyone felt strongly about the issue, but Steve Gilbertson had the strongest argument, stating that the lack of pitch is an actual defect in processing pitch, while rhythm is innate.

    He shared a wonderful article on music deafness, called Amusia. Symptoms  "include the inability to recognize familiar melodies, the loss of ability to read musical notation, the inability to detect wrong or out-of tune notes, the loss of ability to sing, write musical notation, and/or play an instrument."

    I looked for the equivalent defect in recognizing rhythm, but only one case was found, just a couple months ago!

    Here is the article on that special case, which still says that "babies recognize simple musical beats within days of birth, possibly reflecting the operation of an inborn neural timekeeper."

    Oh, and the result of the twitter group? It was a tie, but it turns out that it is much easier to deal with poor rhythm than poor pitch!

    Photo from http://badpitch.blogspot.com/2008/12/man-bites-dog-newspapers-outlive.html


    Should you have a back up plan?

    Freelance musicians are often told that they need a back up plan.

    On the other hand, full time workers are not told that they need a back up plan, since they are considered to have a real job.

    Yet, who suffered the most during the economic crisis? And who would not be paid in case of a government shutdown?

    Not the freelancers, but the people with the "steady" jobs.

    Turns out, musicians don't need more of a back up plan than anybody else.

    Picture from http://groceriesforfreempbtoday.com/mpb-today-review/


    How to practice concentration

    It can be difficult to stay focused when you're practicing and performing.

    Here are four great resources to help you improve your concentration.
    1. This website sharpens your speed, memory, problem solving, flexibility and attention. The online exercises are all really fun to do!

    2. Take your pick out of these 11 short exercises, and do them anywhere anytime. 

    3. Here are a handful of simple physical movements that will help you concentrate.

    4. If you're in a hurry, take this 1-minute exercise once a day. 

    Picture from http://blog.thebrain.com/


    Deadlines can do that

    Musician Elissa Milne introduced on twitter the fun hashtag #deadlinescandothat.

    Here are 10 ways deadlines to a performance impact me.
    1. Talk faster, walk faster, type faster, think faster.
    2. Worry about all the things I'm putting off because of practicing. End up doing all of them. 
    3. Panic because when I did all of the things I was putting off, I put off practicing.
    4. Strictly eat out, or skip eating altogether. 
    5. Loose my temper.  
    6. Rehearse a brand new piece for the 1st time with the soloist a week before the recital, and play it as if I had known it all my life.
    7. Sleep soundly because of accomplishing a week's worth of work in one single day.
    8. Come up with brilliant solutions. In my shower. 
    9. Add breathing to do my to-do-list, or else I stop doing it.
    10. Keep a to-do-list of all the things I need to do post-deadline.

    Picture from http://freelancefolder.com/how-to-never-miss-a-deadline/


      Why students don't phrase

      It takes music students years to start phrasing at their instrument.

      Phrasing is constantly referred to by teachers, but it is rarely given a clear definition and a clear method to apply it.

      When students don't phrase, it isn't because they aren't practicing enough or because they aren't musical.

      It's because they have yet to be taught both what it means, and how to apply it.

      Picture from http://espacioculturalindependiente.wordpress.com/acerca-de/convocatoria-musicos/


      What is the one class missing in a music degree?

      To get an undergrad music degree, students need to take a conducting class, to learn how to conduct from the podium.

      However, the majority of music directors, and many choir directors and music teachers conduct from the piano.

      So chances are that many students who will have been taught how to conduct from the stand, will instead need to know how to conduct from the piano, but won't have been taught how.

      When will schools of music catch on, and offer piano conducting classes?

      Photo from http://www.fotosearch.com/photos-images/conductor-baton.html


      5 April Fool's pranks for musicians

      Here are 5 awesome musicians April Fool's pranks!
      1. Play poorly: This one is for your teacher. Play the right notes and rhythms, but do the opposite of what the music needs.

        Play Chopin like Mozart, and Rock of Ages like John Coltrane. Add a swing to the sonata, or play the recitative in time.

      2. Start the wrong song: Get the orchestra you're in to play the wrong movement when the conductor starts them, or to play a piece that just isn't in the program.

        Don't do this one on your own, because it will seem that you're trying to cover up a genuine mistake.

      3. Transpose: Surprise your singer by transposing the song a third up if he's a tenor, or a third down if he's a bass.

        Play in a different key than your instrumentalist and insist that you are absolutely in the right key.

      4. Make an important change:  If you're in charge, tell your band that you're changing half the program for this weekend's concert.

        Hand your student an important exam they didn't know about. Or tell your cast that you decided to do the show in another language.

      5. Quit: Officially announce that you are tired of being a musician, and that you are quitting. And that you're selling your instrument. And your scores.

       Picture from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3356868/Top-10-April-Fools-Day-links.html 
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