Performer Noise During a Musical Performance

 

Years ago we made a video about Extraneous Movements During a Musical Performance – discussing how some musicians make extreme movements and gyrations during performances and how it can be distracting for the audience, but not necessarily something the performer can control.

 

Today we are going to discuss noises that musicians make while performing music. This is a surprisingly more common problem than you may think and can actually negatively affect many aspects of live performances and even studio recordings.

 

What types of noises are we talking about? Sometimes it can be vocal noises. Other times I’ve seen musicians kicking their legs and stamping on the piano pedals without regard for how much extraneous noise it’s causing to their performance.

 

Involuntary noises are not that uncommon when musicians perform. But there are some cases when it becomes a distraction. Some great performers such as Rudolf Serkin and Glenn Gould made an incredible amount of noise during their performances; so much so that it caused issues during recording sessions.

 

So, how do these sounds happen in the first place, and is there any way to stop them? In some cases people just get used to “singing” along with what they are playing – although it certainly doesn’t sound like singing when they are doing it. Sometimes it can become a deeply ingrained habit that’s incredible difficult to break. Other times emotion might take control of the musician and they find themselves making exaggerated motions that cause noise. When they are on the level of someone like Glenn Gould it can be forgiven even though it’s not ideal. If you find yourself doing this during your practice you must make a concerted effort to stop or else it can become something beyond your control; it can become a permanent part of your performances.

 

In a large concert hall these things might not be much of an issue – it would be very difficult to hear any involuntary “singing” over the sound of the instruments and stamping of the feet or other motions that cause noise may not be noticed either. When it comes to performing in more intimate settings however, this can become a huge problem. Pay very close attention to some recordings and you might even notice a few “grunts” or other sounds coming from the artists that seep into the recording.

 

I remember many years ago I attended a solo piano concert with my father (for a pianist who will remain nameless) and there was so much sound from his vocalizations and foot stamping, that I remarked that the concert was more like a song and dance routine than a piano recital! As a child, it took great effort to stop myself from laughing! It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that no teacher ever stopped him as a child from developing these distracting habits.

 

If you find yourself doing this please make a concerted effort to reign it in and control yourself. If you have students who do this, call it to their attention whenever it happens so they stop making sounds that distract from the music. It might seem like a small problem, but it could potentially develop into something beyond your control and create a lot of distractions from the music.

 

I hope this was helpful and if you have any questions about this topic or any other, please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com for more information.

  Years ago we made a video about Extraneous Movements During a Musical Performance – discussing how some musicians make extreme movements and gyrations during performances and how it can be distracting for the audience, but not necessarily something the performer can control.   Today we are going to discuss noises that musicians make while performing music. This is a … Continue reading Performer Noise During a Musical Performance

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How to Play Ornamentation on the Piano – Piano Techniques

 

Here is a great reference sheet from our friends at Virtual Sheet Music

 

This is an excellent topic. In fact, there are entire books written on the subject! Ornamentation is used in many period styles of music but the Baroque era is specifically known for its ornamentation in architecture, art, as well as music. That’s why in the video example above I am using the first section of the Sarabande movement of the 5th French Suite of Johann Sebastian Bach.

 

You’ve probably seen Baroque music with squiggly lines written above the notes. There are many idea how to interpret them. The problem is that over the course of decades and even centuries, perceptions change. In fact, ideas about ornamentation continues evolving over time. So, how do you approach ornamentation?

 

If you listen to a number of different artists playing the same piece, you will notice that there are dramatically different executions of trills, turns, mordants and other ornaments. This is because ornamentation offers a degree of free license of creativity; To a large degree it’s up to you what to play.

 

In the video above you can hear the difference ornamentation makes in a musical section of Bach. The section I chose repeats. So I play it the first time with no ornamentation. The second time you will hear one approach to Baroque ornamentation. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin – Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-37296

  Here is a great reference sheet from our friends at Virtual Sheet Music   This is an excellent topic. In fact, there are entire books written on the subject! Ornamentation is used in many period styles of music but the Baroque era is specifically known for its ornamentation in architecture, art, as well as music. That’s why in the … Continue reading How to Play Ornamentation on the Piano – Piano Techniques

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How to Make Practicing Music More Enjoyable

 

This is a really good topic, as many people – especially children – really don’t always enjoy practicing. I have a confession to make – when I was a kid, although I loved to play the piano, I didn’t always like to practice! So if you find yourself dreading practicing and trying to avoid it, don’t worry, you’re not alone! However, practicing is something that is essential on every musical instrument – if you want to improve you will have to practice; and practice a lot.

 

So how do you make practicing enjoyable? Well sadly there is no turnkey solution to creating a more enjoyable experience; however I have a few tips that may help you out.

 

The problem for younger people is that they have a harder time understanding the benefits of hard work leading to bigger rewards. We live in a society of instant gratification and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s a cycle that is hard to break. As you mature into adulthood the reality of work versus reward is more apparent and there are certain things you know will take time and effort in order to achieve – playing music is one of them.

 

There is nothing worse than seeing a young student forced to practice; having them stare at the clock in anticipation of it being over. It is absolutely essential that you are fully engaged in your practice sessions. While practicing certainly has a physiological component, practicing is ultimately a thought process. If you are not engaged in your practice session, you might be moving your fingers and playing notes but you certainly aren’t practicing. Conversely, you could be thinking about practicing your instrument even when you aren’t playing it and actually achieve a high level of practice (Please check out my video on How to Play Piano with your Mind for more information on this.)

 

How do you become mentally engaged in your practice sessions? If you have the opportunity to choose your own repertoire, choose something you are really excited about. There will be times when you need to learn music that you are required to or you need to in order to develop essential skills. Just remember that every piece you learn is just another step in the right direction and will prepare you to learn the music you are really passionate about.

 

Another motivation is having musical performances you are looking forward to. This is what got me really excited about practicing and learning music. As a teenager I started to perform more often and I found my love for music grew more and more. Having an opportunity to perform – even if it’s only for family or friends at first– will boost your excitement level and will help you become much more engaged in practice sessions.

 

A great thing to do with practice sessions is to organize them as you would a fine meal. You can start with an appetizer of scales and arpeggios, then move on to a main course of something like memorization, then maybe have a dessert with refinement or sight reading. The basic idea is to mix up your practice sessions and include a lot of different aspects of musical development. This will really help to excite your sessions as you won’t be doing the same thing over and over again.

 

One big problem people face is accepting their own limitations. If you can’t do something, find another way! Build yourself up by conquering many smaller tasks again and again. Many people have a very difficult time accepting their own musical limitations and become frustrated at themselves. If you learn to accept your own personal limitations and work towards overcoming them you will be surprised at how quickly you will develop into a better musician.

 

You also must keep into account the point of diminishing returns. If you are practicing and you are achieving less and less or you are remaining stagnant with a certain discipline, move on and try something else. If you keep forcing something that can’t be refined at the moment if won’t help you. Sometimes it’s best to move on to something completely different and return to the problem later when you have a fresh outlook.

Overall, the most important thing is to keep yourself engaged and remember that you are not perfect – we are all human! Forgive yourself and keep your practice interesting so you remain engaged.

Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  This is a really good topic, as many people – especially children – really don’t always enjoy practicing. I have a confession to make – when I was a kid, although I loved to play the piano, I didn’t always like to practice! So if you find yourself dreading practicing and trying to avoid it, don’t worry, you’re not … Continue reading How to Make Practicing Music More Enjoyable

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Is Slow Practice Important? Music Lessons

 

When you think about the most impressive feats of human creation – from the great pyramids to an incredibly intricate piece of art-work – it all starts one piece at a time. Meticulously building something while often tedious – can lead to incredible results. The same principle applies when learning music and developing your skills as a musician.

 

Being able to play a piece of music up to speed and have it flow seamlessly and almost without effort is something you will have to build up to; this is not something that just comes naturally for most people. The best way to achieve this type of sound and skill in your playing – no matter what instrument – is to practice slowly and often with a metronome.

 

I’ve covered this topic when it comes specifically to piano but I thought I would create a new video and article for all instruments – as some of them present unique challenges. For example, sometimes on a wind instrument it’s not practical to practice slowly – because the breathing will be in all different places. However, when you get to a particularly fast passage it’s a good idea to slow things down, so you can get the finger movements and tonguing in-synch with one-another. If you just play fast all the time there will be a lack of precision.

 

I guarantee you that any great musician – no matter what instrument – has practiced slowly and continues to reinforce with slow practice throughout their musical career. It is simply something that every great musician does. They might not practice an entire piece slowly – and you don’t necessarily have to either – but you must practice faster and more difficult passage under tempo to develop security in your playing.

 

Now there is one huge caveat to practicing slowly: you must do it with a metronome and you must incrementally increase your speed. First of all, you will not want to increase the speed at all until you have complete control over the passage you are working on; it should come off completely smooth and almost effortlessly. Only then will you want to increase the speed on your metronome and make sure that you only move it up one notch at a time. Building speed and precision at this pace will allow you to conquer the most difficult passages with ease – they will become almost effortless when you are done with them.

 

If you have doubts about this method, I have an exercise for you to try. Take an old piece you have had at performance level – one you haven’t played in quite some time. You might have some trouble areas at first, and that’s fine. Take any parts where you are a bit rusty and try playing them slowly – you don’t even need the metronome for this at first. You will find that if you practice these parts slowly it’s the best way to get the piece back into a high performance level. Some key areas may require working one notch at a time increasing speed with the metronome. However, you may find instant results just from the slow practice!

 

Slow practice is something I recommend to all my students and it really is something you should do on any instrument. While there are some instruments where slow practice isn’t always a practical, all of them will benefit from slow practice in faster sections. If slow practice is something you haven’t tried or avoided until now I highly recommend adding it to your routine; you will love the outcome, I promise!

 

Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  When you think about the most impressive feats of human creation – from the great pyramids to an incredibly intricate piece of art-work – it all starts one piece at a time. Meticulously building something while often tedious – can lead to incredible results. The same principle applies when learning music and developing your skills as a musician.   … Continue reading Is Slow Practice Important? Music Lessons

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Dealing with a Loud Audience

 

As performers we all have a certain amount of ego – if we go out and perform something and people aren’t paying attention it’s pretty insulting. It would be great if every time you performed people would simply stop what they are doing and give you their full attention but, you have to be realistic; this isn’t going to happen all the time.

 

The first thing to remember is that there are many different types of performances. There are formal occasions such as recitals or symphony concerts as well as more informal locations such as parties, restaurants or even malls. While the performances might be similar, the audience and setting is extremely different.

 

If people are loud and obnoxious at a formal event – which does happen – this is something that is completely antithetical to the setting of the performance; if they act that way in a public setting it’s something to be expected and planned for. You can’t expect everyone at a party to stop what they are doing to listen to your performance – they are probably there to eat, drink and socialize with their friends.

 

It’s very important as a musician to understand your audience and the context of the performance. In many cases when you are playing in an informal setting you have to put your ego aside and realize that what you are doing is more of a job than a pure musical expression.

 

But how do you deal with an audience member in a formal setting who is being loud? There are a number of ways to react and deal with a situation like this.

 

One method is to be confrontational. You could try looking towards the source of the noise and possibly intimidate the audience members to quiet down so everyone can enjoy the music. This can work but it can also backfire. Really the last thing you want to do is create a distraction by developing a dynamic between you and an audience member – you want to minimize the distraction to your audience. It’s probably best to avoid confrontation whenever possible.

 

I personally use a much different method. If I find someone is being disruptive during a performance, I do my best to draw them out to the audience and make them aware of the distraction. For example, when I come to a quiet part of a piece I may play even quieter then I normally would. This might seem counter intuitive, but if you captivate your audience and have them follow you into a quiet section they will be incensed at the idea of someone disrupting it for them. In situations like this the audience will take care of your problem for you.

 

The best thing you can do is keep your composure. You don’t want your audience seeing you affected in a negative way and you don’t want them seeing you upset. You will have to deal with this problem as a performer and it’s always important to remember the context in which you are performing.

 

Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  As performers we all have a certain amount of ego – if we go out and perform something and people aren’t paying attention it’s pretty insulting. It would be great if every time you performed people would simply stop what they are doing and give you their full attention but, you have to be realistic; this isn’t going to … Continue reading Dealing with a Loud Audience

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The Basics of Musical Improvisation – Musical Improv 101

 

Improvisation is something that seems almost impossible when it’s done effectively. If you’ve ever seen a comedy act in which they improvise using different objects or ideas it can be incredibly entertaining and it’s amazing to watch people come up with such great ideas out of thin air.

 

In a lot of ways it’s how we used to think as a children; coming up with elaborate stories and creative games is something that comes naturally. Over the course of our development in society we are taught to temper these creative aspects of our personality in order to conform to a more strict set of rules. However, inside all of us lies the ability to be creative and let ourselves go – it’s just really a matter of re-discovering those aspects of ourselves!

 

When it comes to music, there are many different types of improvisation. Many genres of music have structure in which improvisation is built on. For example, when it comes to great jazz artists (like Chick Corea or Miles Davis) they will perform improvisations on a song that is somewhat pre-determined. There is a melody and theme to the music that stands as a foundation and throughout the course of the song they improvise and embellish it by using improvisation to change the melody, harmony and the overall arrangement. One of Miles Davis’ albums, “Bitches Brew” had over 20 musicians – including multiple percussionists – in the same room playing at the same time. Without some sort of foundation to the music it would sound like chaos. While there might not have been a pre-determined course for the music, a consistent rhythm section is able to keep the piece intact while other instruments improvise different melodies and solos. However, this is by no means the only type of improvisation when it comes to music.

 

Keith Jarrett is an artist who would go out on stage and play an entire concert that is totally improvised and not based on any previous material. Sure, there might be some riffs and chord changes he’s played a number of times before but the actual structure of the music is purely improvised with new melodies and structure every time.

 

There are dozens of different types of improvisation when it comes to music. Indian Ragas are another example of improvisation where a number of musicians will get together and play a piece that could sometimes last 90 minutes and is improvised above a consistent drone.

 

When it comes down to it, there are really two main types of improvisation. One that is built upon a foundation and one that is purely made up. A lot of improvisation will blur the lines between the two and form their own unique styles. For example, I like to improvise classical pieces. I have grown up with music and have a strong understanding of this musical language so I find enjoyment in making up pieces or taking existing pieces and improvising with them.

 

There are countless different ways in which you can improvise with music and all of them can be both rewarding and beneficial to your musical development.

 

Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729

  Improvisation is something that seems almost impossible when it’s done effectively. If you’ve ever seen a comedy act in which they improvise using different objects or ideas it can be incredibly entertaining and it’s amazing to watch people come up with such great ideas out of thin air.   In a lot of ways it’s how we used to … Continue reading The Basics of Musical Improvisation – Musical Improv 101

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