Connecting the dots: Learning to read music is worth the effort

Sheet music for Mozart piano sonata
It’s like musical HTML/CSS

Matt Stevens, the excellent loopist and guitarist, posed a question on Twitter recently, “Is it important for musicians to be able to read music?

This is a perennial discussion point amongst musicians and often seems to divide down the lines of those who already can and those who can’t favouring their own state. I’m in the can read and think it’s a good thing and here are a few reasons why. Continue reading Connecting the dots: Learning to read music is worth the effort

Become a better musician: No substitute for practice

Keep going, remember to think about your grip and by the time you’re five you’ll be cooking

Practice is a means to an end, playing well, and it is a vital component to reach that end. I don’t think I have ever met a musician who I thought was a great player who didn’t practice and practice effect­ively.

When I first went to conser­vatory I would stumble around in awe of all the amazingly talented people I was surrounded by. They seemed like a different species to me. After a while I was able to hear some strat­i­fic­ation of ability between these brilliant musicians and I noticed that the better ones (in relative terms they were all amazing players) practiced a lot and practiced effect­ively.

Regular practice is the key to the door. If you don’t do that you can’t even gain entry to the temple of Euterpe but to really become good, Manuel Barrueco good, you’ve got to practice effect­ively. It’s not enough to just punch the clock and lather, rinse, repeat. Getting better demands that you pay attention to what and how you practice too.

Identifying specific element that you want to improve is important whether it’s a technical element or a piece. If you keep practicing that thing you can do well you’re not getting much return on your effort. There’s less room to get better there than there is working on things you can’t yet do so well.

This happened at conser­vatory too. I would hear the halls echoing with someone banging out a Rachmaninov Prelude and sounding great, but after a while you could notice the same musician playing the same piece over and over. Sometimes a few doors away you could hear another musician trudging through arpeggios or working on a technique like their trill. It didn’t sound so impressive but it served them better in the long run. Being great at playing one thing is no bad thing but it’s not the same as being a good musician.

Practicing is not the same thing as playing. Cranking through your reper­toire of pieces isn’t effective practice. It won’t do you any harm, but to build a strong found­ation of facility and technique requires thought about who you are and where you are as a musician. Try to identify where you are now as a player and where you want to get to. What can’t you do yet as well as the players you admire? That’s where to put the effort in. Continue reading Become a better musician: No substitute for practice

Is Two-Track Recording The Best Method? Not Always But Sometimes

Image, Studer Tape Decks, by bORjAmATiC used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
Image, Studer Tape Decks, by bORjAmATiC used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

I’ve got myself embroiled in a discussion in the LinkedIn Music Producers group about whether Pro Tools (and digital multi­track recording in general) is a retro­grade step in terms of record production. The seed of the discussion is a quote from Joe Boyd in the September issue of Mix magazine,

You could say that 2-track recording is the purest form of record making. Four-track, 8-track, etcetera, through the present limitless expanse of possib­il­ities on Pro Tools have all been steps backward in terms of making recordings that will endure the test of time.

At first scan this is not something I agree with in the least, but Joe Boyd has made some extraordinary records with the likes of Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and 10,000 Maniacs so the question deserves at least some consid­er­ation.

Two inter­esting streams of argument have developed in the group,

  1. Have the incredible capab­il­ities of digital recording and editing lead us to record in ways that compromise the ultimate quality of the recordings we produce
  2. Have we used these techniques to create (or facil­itate the creation of) a culture of poor and lazy musicianship

In the first case the crucial question is what is “better”. I think that the answer to this can only be seen in the light of what is to be recorded. There isn’t a single best recording method and in my opinion choosing the best method to capture a particular group of musicians is one of the key tasks for a producer. The same methods will not work for a string quartet as a trance band. “Better” at the very least must be defined by context. Continue reading Is Two-Track Recording The Best Method? Not Always But Sometimes