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

Independent, impecunious and heading for the recording studio: An exhortation to prepare excellently

She Makes War
The album Disarm by She Makes War is out now

A lovely coincidence of inform­ation occurred today that give me a chance to beat a drum for using good studios to record your music, if at all possible, and to do this sensibly by preparing thoroughly for the recording sessions.

The first element is a great blogpost from warri­orgirl announcing the release of the She Makes War album Disarm. Before going any further you can (and should) buy the album here because it’s great. In the post she shares her thoughts on making an album as an independent artist including the decision to spend money on making the album in a studio rather than recording at home.

… I wanted to show people that indie artists could make a product with a quality of sound and aesthetics on a level with or better than those with label backing, at a fraction of the cost. By being prepared for the recording sessions (the songs were all written and arranged) and getting down to work in the studio rather than wasting time playing pool and drinking coffee you can get a profes­sional sounding album made for a reasonable sum of money, and I’m happy I chose to work with Myles rather than added the pressure to become a good quality engineer to my already full plate.

There are a couple of things here that I want to heartily endorse, Continue reading Independent, impecunious and heading for the recording studio: An exhortation to prepare excel­lently

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