Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Great Article on Slow Practice

Is Slow Practice Really Necessary?

by Dr. Noa Kageyama · 
Like everyone else in the world who has ever taken music lessons, I’ve been urged to practice slowly on many an occasion.
But did I heed my teachers’ advice?
After all, what’s the point of slow practice? Everything is easier slower – of course you can play things more accurately at a slow tempo. What’s the big deal?
But…why do so many people swear by slow practice?

Slow practice in the martial arts

I began dabbling a bit in the martial arts when I went to college. My karate sensei would often make us practice our techniques in super slow motion to ensure we were using proper form and really developing an understanding of the nuances of each movement.
Of course, it took me a while to understand why we were doing this. At first, as in music, I thought it was a waste of time. But then I realized how much more difficult it was to punch or kick in slow motion. It required a much deeper understanding of what each movement actually required. Slowly (ha, ha), I came to understand where I had missed the boat all these years.
The point is not whether the punch or kick hits the target (or whether you nail the shift or get the note in tune), but whether you do everything correctly along the way. Meaning, are you keeping your key muscles loose? Are you moving all of your muscles in the most effective way? Are you maximizing accuracy and efficiency? Are you nailing every single tiny little detail?

Slow practice in music

I had forgotten all about this until very recently, when I had the pleasure of interviewing Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim for a book I’m working on.
He revealed that one of the keys to his success (and building confidence as well) is super slow practice. A process of practicing in slow motion – while being fully mindful, highly engaged, and thinking deeply in real-time about what he is doing.
Incidentally, this is not a painful torturous process, but often an engrossing and gratifying one. A way in which to open up the door to many satisfying micro-discoveries that could ultimately be the key to getting a phrase to sound just so, and communicating exactly what it is that you intend.
This is much like what golfing great Ben Hogan apparently did to hone his golf swing – check out this video of Hogan demonstrating how he works on his stroke in slow motion.

Two misunderstandings

So why don’t we do more slow practice? It’s not because we’re lazy; I think it’s just a big misunderstanding.

1. We are too concerned with the outcome, not the process

Meaning, we forget that how we get there is just as important as whether or not we do.
The point of slow practice is not just to slow things down in order to play it perfectly. It’s about fine-tuning the execution, and looking for additional ways to play it even better while we are playing slowly enough to monitor and think about the little details.
Are you cultivating the right habits, so that when the tempo increases, you are still playing it the right way? Or are there lots of inefficiencies, or bad habits that will lead to breakdowns when you increase the tempo?

2. We don’t practice slowly enough.

Since the whole point is to be able to think, monitor, and analyze our technique as we are playing, practicing at a moderate tempo defeats the purpose. It’s too fast for us to observe, fully process, and tweak all the little details.
The idea is to utilize super slow practice so that we can pay attention to all the subtle nuances of our mechanics, increase our awareness of what is actually happening, and find ways to make things better.
So it might be more accurate to think of this as slow-motion practice or super-slow practice, rather than regular old slow practice, which tends to lead to mindless play-throughs of a passage at a moderately slow tempo.
Read this article written by martial arts expert Peter Freedman, which helps to clarify what we ought to be doing when we’re practicing slowly.

Take action

Try it out! And don’t forget to have your practice notebook handy, as you will undoubtedly discover new solutions and subtle technical details that you weren’t previously aware of.
Bonus reading: Download this great article about how the brain and muscles work together to develop our skills, specifically in music. It’s written by neurologist and author Dr. Frank Wilson, and is one of those classic must-reads that has often been passed around from musician to musician.
UPDATE: Need some help going from slow to fast? Here are some ideas from Gerald Klickstein.
UPDATE: Came across a study once which suggested that in some cases we learn faster when we emphasize speed over accuracy (What?! Sounds like heresy, I know). Here’s a cool exercise that gets at this idea.
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Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Arizona ASTA

Hello to my new friends at Arizona ASTA!

I hope you get some new ideas from our discussions today!

The morning will be The Art of Developing Passionate Ensembles and Finger Patterns as a Vehicle to upper positions and scales.

In the afternoon, we will cover Inspiring the Net Generation String Student and then weave my Pedagogy from the Podium session into the new music reading session.

I hope you have a great time and take home some new ideas!!

Best Always,


PS - Thanks to Terry Alexander for bringing me out for the weekend! And, to NS Design and D'Addario for sponsoring the trip!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The End of the Symphony

This is an excellent article from the blog, 
It is well worth the time to go and check it out!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012



I have been thinking a great deal lately about the meaning of the word transcend.  I have a colleague that started me thinking about it this summer. He challenged me to find ways to lead young musicians to transcendent performances.   How do we, as musicians, achieve a musical experience that is transcendent.  And, what does it transcend?  It is, in my opinion, much deeper that playing the correct notes and rhythms.  But, how do we get there?

Think about it.  We have all experienced music that we feel is transcendent.  As listeners, we have all been swept up in that wave of emotion on which great music can carry us.  As musicians, we know it when we are in the midst of it. We feel it.  I sometimes say it is where physics becomes metaphysics.  We get chills.  We feel like we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.    A transcendent performance is always the goal.

I met my new orchestra students at NCSSM for the first time today.  I told them that this concept of transcendence is on my mind during this season of a new academic year.  Here is something that I do know.  I looked into the faces of a group of young musicians that are ready to go wherever I lead them.  So, my job is clear.  I need to lead them to a transcendent experience.   I am thinking that this experience must be musically transcendent, personally, transcendent, academically transcendent, and perhaps emotionally transcendent.  The goal is set.

Now we go to work.  We begin the journey together.  We will get there together.  It will take some time.  it will take some trust.  But, trust me, I know we will get there.  I can't wait!


Tuesday, July 31, 2012


My guilty pleasure for this summer has been to buy some books for my nook that I might not have otherwise picked up.  For several months, I have been eying the Sammy Hagar auto-biography, Red.  So, I finally picked it up on my nook this summer and powered through it over the course of about 3 days.  Before I write any more about it, you need to know that this morning I bought the Chickenfoot CD and the Wabos CD (Sammy Hagar’s most recent recording projects).  So, that ought to say something.  I get a kick of this guy.  You also need to know that I was never a big fan.  I knew “I can’t drive 55” and all of the popular Van Halen stuff.  I had seen him on a few interviews on MTV over the years.  For some reason, I really remember on night that he was on the Magic Johnson late night show, back in the ‘80’s.  Otherwise, I really didn’t know that much about him or his music.

Wow.  I was knocked out as I read this book.  What a life this guy has lived.  What a story of determination and success.  The book is a little hard to get started into.  The writing style is super-conversational. But, as you go, it starts to make sense.  Sammy comes from a really rough childhood; an abusive father, poverty, alcohol abuse all around.  He essentially is a fighter and a winner.  From music, to business, to relationships, there is a lot to like about this guy.  He wanted to be a song writer and a musician, so he figured it out.  He took some major chances, kicked and scratched, and made it happen.  He fronted Van Halen for a bunch of years and wrote or co-wrote some many of their biggest hits.  He has strong ideas about music, songwriting, putting shows together, and entertainment that he developed from years of watching, trying things, and learning from his mistakes.

I am so impressed with his business sense, too. He started out in real estate and a bunch of buildings in his home town.   He had this super successful early mountain bike business back in the ‘80’s.  I had totally forgotten about it. Do you remember the “Red Rocker” mountain bikes?  They were high end mountain bikes in the early years.   Then there was his club in Cabo.  And, of course, he has his tequila business.  Not to mention his attention to details and what sells in the music business.  He takes care of his employees, too.  He gets it.  And, he gets into businesses that he thinks are cool.  I am really impressed with that.

Another thing that I really love is his honesty.  He is honest in the book about his life.  And, he seems to be really honest with people. What a great quality.  I heard someone say recently that honesty is so much easier than dishonesty: you don’t have to remember anything when you are honest.  It is true.  It seems like he is pretty good with that.

I also really dig his accounts of spiritual experiences.  He talks about encounters that he had with relatives and friends in dreams after they had died, before he knew they had died.  I just feel like he is a pretty intuitive guy.  I enjoyed hearing about it.  Also, he talks for a bit about his relationship with the concept of numerology.  It sort of blew my mind.  It was hard for me to look at numbers the way he does, but I enjoyed getting the concept explained a bit. 

I want to be clear; the book isn’t for faint of heart.  The writing style and language is harsh, to say the least.  There are lots of stories about his sexual exploits and drug abuse by him and others.  That is, for better or worse, part of the rocker lifestyle, story, and mystique, it seems.  (We have seenit all over the “Behind the Music” series.)  He lived it in every way.  But, somehow, he came out the other side.  He has a beautiful wife and two daughters, as well as two boys from a previous marriage that he really hung in there on.  He is a successful businessman and musician.  For goodness sake, he is making music on his own terms, not someone else’s.   He is a guy that went for it and succeeded.  There is a lot to gain from knowing the story.  And, honestly, I am really digging the Chickenfoot and Wabo recordings.

I really enjoyed the story.  So much so, that I started in on the Mick Jagger biography yesterday! (I have to say, I have a very different impression of Sir Mick.  Rock Icon, but a very different human being – in relationships, business, and motivation. )  This book by Sammy Hagar has been a fun little journey.  Rock on!



Monday, July 30, 2012


Over past 3 years, I have developed a relationship with the goldfinch. 

Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that the goldfinch has developed relationship with me.

Many of you know that I am an avid bicyclist and, even though I don’t get out as much as I used to, or I would like, I still really enjoy getting out on the road for a long ride or onto the single tracks to rip it up on my mountain bike anytime that I can.  (In fact, yesterday, I had a great day riding about 90 miles to Old Mission Lighthouse in the northern part of Michigan and will write about that later.)  I think it is also important to state that in recent years, I have developed new and probably much merited fears about riding on the roads.  It is really dangerous out there!  Maybe I am more aware of my family responsibilities and my own mortality.  In any event, I do think about it every time I get on my bike.  But, I feel like the benefits outweigh the risks, so I pedal on.

About three summers ago, I was teaching at a string camp in Anne Arundel County near Annapolis, MD.  While there, I was getting out on my bike every day when I wasn’t in rehearsal.  Boy, were the roads dangerous there!  Cars would fly by me and not give an inch.  I really worried about my safety.  Sometime during the week, I noticed that a goldfinch was following me on my ride.  I started realizing that it would stay with me for miles.  I can’t quite describe it but to say that I felt a sense of safety and peace when it was with me.  I would say that I noticed it on three of my rides that week and always smiled when he was with me.

Later that summer, my family was vacationing in Western Pennsylvania at a small state park called Prince Gallitzin.  It is one of my favorite places in the world: a small lake, rolling hills, forests, trails, camping, farms that go on forever, and quaint small towns.  I try to ride every day when we are there.  The hills are a great workout.  Sometimes too great!  Anyway, guess who shows up?  Goldfinches.  Again, they are hanging with me for miles on my rides.  Again, I just have this sense of safety and peace when they are with me.  Later that summer, we headed to Indian lake, near Somerset, PA to hang out with my sister-in-law and her family.  Sure enough, more goldfinches.  And in Somerset, they were even more prominent during my rides, hanging with me for 10, 15, even 20 miles.

When I returned home to North Carolina, I decided to drop a note to my old friend, Joe Liles.  Joe is immersed in Native American culture and I thought that I would ask him about the goldfinch and if there was any Native American lore about this phenomenon.  He told me that he wasn’t aware of anything specific, but that Native Americans do feel that The Great Spirit can be found in nature and that animals can be a conduit to ancestors and to God.  Interesting.  I don’t have any conclusions here.  I just find it all to be interesting.  I am a pretty spiritual guy.  I am a Christian.  (If you read my blog at all, I hope that you had already figured that out.)  I am really intrigued by the book “Heaven is Real” and the concept of intercession by our relatives.  I don’t know.  I just find it interesting and palpable.  I have read a couple of similar books and love the thought of a heaven where we are young, whole, happy, and together with those that love us.  I have bought in to the concept.  I have really wondered if these goldfinches were at least a representation of a deceased relative just hanging with me, assuring me that everything is ok, or maybe literally keeping me safe.  Maybe they were a sign from God, reminding me of his grace and protection.  Again, no sermon here.  I am just reporting the facts.

This summer I am teaching at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp.  I love my gig here.  I have time to ride my bike almost every day.  Guess what?  The goldfinches are back.  I have been joined on my bike rides several times by these guys.  This summer, they are more like fly-bys.  They don’t hang with me for miles.  Instead they fly right in front of me.  Almost like they WANT me to see that they are there.  And, every time, I get this incredible sense of the presence of God.  It is a feeling that tells me I am not riding alone (on my ride that day and through life). 

A few days ago, my wife and kids were leaving to go to Pittsburgh for a couple of days.  I was a little concerned about them.  It is a long drive and the family was going to be apart for a while.  We said our goodbyes and they headed out.  As they got out onto the road, a goldfinch did a fly-by on them!  She had my son text me and let me know that he was headed my way.  The bird flew right in front of the car.  He wanted to make sure she saw him.  Crazy.

I have shared this story with lots of folks.  As I said, I don’t really have any concrete explanations.  All I know is how it makes me feel.  These finch encounters make me feel safe and not so alone in the universe.  They give me a sense of peace.  I think we all need more peace in our lives.  I know that I need more.  Peace can certainly be well beyond our understanding.   I feel like this is that peace.  I don’t really understand the peace that I receive when I know I am not riding alone.  I just accept it for what it is worth.  I enjoy it and savor it.

And, now every time I get on my bike, I wonder if I am going to encounter my old friends, the goldfinches.  Or maybe they are some other old friends.  Regardless, it makes getting on my bike an adventure!



Thursday, July 26, 2012


I have just a few minutes to write briefly about my experience at the Styx Concert this summer at Interlochen.  Those of you that are Facebook friends with me have a pretty good idea of the experience, but I thought I would just share a few other thoughts.  I had the great pleasure of seeing Styx in concert at Interlochen on July 19 and then enjoyed backstage passes and a nice conversation with original band member, James Young, after the show.

Many of you don’t know that I loved Styx as a kid and from 1977 – 1983, simply wore the grooves off of my Styx records.  My sister went on a few dates with a guy in 1977 that turned me on to the band.  The Grand Illusion album had just come out and Come Sail Away was finding its way to the airwaves on WDVD in Pittsburgh.  I bought the record at Indiana’s local Record Store (and head shop), took it home, and began memorizing words, guitar solos, bass lines, etc. from the very beginning.  I remember my parents looking over the words on the slip cover and approving of the material, but pointing out the one use of the word “hell” and that they didn’t want that word creeping into my language.  Soon after, I bought previous records, Crystal Ball and Equinox.  I couldn’t get enough.  I particularly liked the lyrical songwriting and guitar playing of Tommy Shaw and the heavy quality to James Young’s riffs.  I wasn’t a big fan for Dennis DeYoung’s dramatic style, even then.  I couldn’t wait for Pieces of Eight to come out in 1978.  I bought the album the day it was released and even saved up to buy the “picture disc LP” that had the album cover art imprinted right on the vinyl.  I had it framed and it lived on my bedroom wall until I went to college in 1983.  I loved every tune on Pieces of Eight.  Still the Tommy Shaw stuff, I realize now, was my favorite.  Conerstone came out a year later and it was memorized in just the same way.  By the time Paradise Theater was released, I was beginning to move on to other music, but I still knew every riff and word of that record.  Like many kids in the 80’s, they lost me on “Mister Robato.”  It just didn’t work for me. 

I have been turning my kids on to Styx music all summer in preparation for the concert in July.  I took the whole family.  It has been a wonderful trip down memory lane to experience all of the great songs again, remembering my feelings about them as an adolescent and creating new memories and feeling about the songs as a 47 year old dad of three boys.  I have definitely realized this in the past few weeks:  Tommy Shaw is the reason I love this band.  He has been an incredible influence on my musical life.  He is the consummate rock star on stage.  He is a tremendous musician and lyricist.  Man in the Wilderness, Angry Young Man, Crystal Ball, Fooling Yourself.  These are the tunes that still resonate for me in so many ways.  They always will.  I think that many of the melodies I write are directly influenced by his writing.  I am indebted to him and Styx in so many ways. 

I definitely want to thank Liza Grossman for hooking me and my son up with the backstage passes.  It was a thrill to meet JY and I loved my conversation with him after the show.  What a great guy.  It was so much fun to hear his stories of the early days and their current work and lives.  I was sorry that I didn't get to say thanks to Tommy.  But, I totally understood, he had several shows coming up and needed to save his voice after the show.  If we had met, I just would have said "thanks."  So, I will say it here.

Styx helped me get through my adolescent years.  Their music moved me.  It shaped me.  It has been a blast to revisit that in the past few weeks. 



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Everyone's Attitude Matters

As a conductor and educator, I am keenly aware that the attitude and approach that I bring to every rehearsal and class has a tremendous impact on the direction and success of that session.  If I bring positive energy to the rehearsal, I usually get it back from  the musicians.  If I am having an "off" day or am a bit under the weather, I can usually see that reflected in the attitude of the musicians as well.

A couple of days ago, I was in a meeting that ran right up to the beginning of my rehearsal. The meeting was rather intense and raised several ideas and concerns for all of those in attendance.   I raced to my rehearsal space following the meeting, never really gaining the time to focus on my upcoming rehearsal. The musicians were in seats and tuned as I raced up to the podium and began rehearsal.  It took me a solid 30 minutes to get focused and I believe that everyone in the room knew that my head wasn't entirely in the right place. The rehearsal was certainly sub-par in every way.  The musicians were unfocused.  They made unnecessary mistakes over and over again.  And, I became frustrated with them and myself as the rehearsal continued. The next day, I owned up to my personal disappointment in that rehearsal and took full responsibility for the results.

I am guess that this idea doesn't come as much of a surprise to anyone that may be reading this. We often hear that a classroom is always a reflection of the teacher.  I believe this is true.

I have encountered a situation this week that has me believing that the reverse is true as well.  Every student has a responsibility to bring a good attitude and approach to class and rehearsal as well.  And, it really only takes one bad attitude to pervade and entire ensemble or class and to really ruin the experience for everyone.

This week, I have a new group of students in my ensemble.  Te have had two rehearsals and we are just getting to know each other, both musically and personally.  It is a lovely group of students and I am really looking forward to preparing two magnificent concerts with them.  We are doing some excellent literature and there are many opportunities for genuine music-making and exceptional moments.  Except for one factor.  There is one student, that for some reason, has an incredibly bad attitude.  She has a disinterested look, isn't participating fully in the rehearsals, never smiles, is never prepared for a downbeat or and entrance, and generally exudes negativity with every movement she makes. (I am working to reach out to this student and am hopeful that I can care for her in some way that is meaningful and turn this around, but that isn't really the point of this essay.)  My point here is that her bad attitude affects me and everyone around her.  Ultimately, she is bringing us all down with her.  Her negativity makes me and everyone around her feel bad.  It doesn't just stay with her.

I think that it is important for members of ensembles to know that their attitude has impact.  It has impact on everyone.  Conductors aren't immune to negative energy.  It makes it hard to do our job!  Teachers and aren't immune to students' negative energy.  I am guessing that the same is true for pastors, CEO's, school administrators, managers, and all sorts of other leaders.  We all have a responsibility  for the energy that we bring to a team activity.  Certainly, playing in an orchestra is a team activity that requires energy and a positive approach from every participant.  I think that this concept extends well beyond a musical ensemble or a sports team, though.  Any group effort: a class, a business, a church, a club, etc.  requires all members to bring an attitude of cooperation and desire to succeed in order for the organization to have long or short-term success. 

I think it important for my musicians to understand this. We are all in this together.  It is what we signed up for and a chain is only as strong as the weakest link.  Both musically, and in attitude.

So, for my students and all students, musicians, team members, and leaders:  let's bring an attitude of positivity to the work that we are doing.  It will make the process much more enjoyable -more enjoyable for everyone.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Intership Opportunity for Students Interested in Music and Technology

Friends and Music Educators, 

I recieved this note recently from an alum of NCSSM, Doug Whitfield, that is working on starting a 501(c)(3) with lawyer Nicholas Clark in the Washington, DC area that helps fund educational and journalistic materials through an umbrella organization. Currently he works with a few websites that are planning on joining, two of which specifically deal with music, the Music Manumit Podcast and the Music Manumit Lawcast. It is for these two organizations that he is looking for an intern.
Please see the information below and feel free to make contact with Doug if you think you have an interested student.  This can be a high school or college student and they need not live in the same region as the leadership.
I hope that this finds some interest!

WHAT THE STUDENT GETS: Valuable experience using an audio editor, such as audacity. Project management skills. Depending on knowledge and desire, potentially practical software development skills (I'm happy to talk more about what we might want here). Access to our truly global* network of musicians, netlabels, professors, journalists, lawyers and activists. Access to professional bloggers/podcasters such as Jeffrey Powers.

*our most recent guest was from South Korea, but we've had guests from Italy, Germany, Poland, Sweden, France, Indonesia, Switzerland, Argentina, Spain, England and Australia. On Saturday our guest is from South Africa and we have plans to speak with lawyers in Japan and Canada in the next month.

WHAT THE ORGANIZATION GETS: Well, that depends on the student. Here's what we're looking for:
An intern interested in music would be putting together our music shows in blogger and searching out great new bands releasing under remixable Creative Commons licenses. We would also have an intern interested in music help with booking bands for interviews. We have long talked about putting a live show together and that is something we may finally be able to do if we have a capable intern willing to help out with booking.

An intern interested in social media/advertising would maintain our facebook and Google Plus pages. We would likely also start a dedicated twitter account. Right now, I am just using my personal twitter account because there is too much to keep track of otherwise.

An intern interested in technology would be helping us write a script to take banshee (a Linux media player written in the mono language) playlists and get them into blogger in the most efficient way possible. This is going to take some serious regular expression manipulation. My master's degree is in information science and I could easily speak more about the requirements for this project. We also have some projects lined up for the SIP telephony protocol. 

An intern interested in law would do legal research on the Creative Commons license. This is likely where Nicholas and I can provide the most to an intern.

Thank you,
Doug Whitfield
Executive Director, Netizen Empowerment Federation