13 Nov 2014

Make your notes count!

As an artist, every note you play or sing, every sound you make, every step you dance, every brushstroke you commit to the canvas should have some sort of purpose.

That purpose might not always be artistic - if you're working on, say, a Czerny piano study, then those notes, those sounds, are designed to improve a particular technique... but they should never be "just notes".  

That's why I get annoyed when I hear guitarists like Rusty Cooley or Joe Satriani, singers like Whitney Houston, Beyonce or Boys II Men, or see dancers like Chris Brown.  While their technique and control of fast and complex passages is astonishing, I feel myself constantly asking "Why are you doing that? How does that scale/inflection/movement add to the meaning of the work you're performing?" 

There are other people who will argue to the end of time that I'm doing the above artists a disservice. After all, how many couples out there have had "The Greatest Love Of All" as their first dance?  Wept their eyes out over "End Of The Road"?

And conversely, there are plenty of artists I enjoy and admire (composer Franz Liszt; pianist Oscar Peterson; drummer Terry Bozzio) who many would argue are flashy bores who are interested in nothing more than getting as many notes into a bar as possible. 

Clearly, then, deciding who exactly is guilty of this sort of aesthetic nonsense is very much a subjective thing... but I stand by the idea that whatever artistic act you're doing, you should make sure every part of it is somehow adding to the meaning of the piece.  Otherwise it's not art - it's just work. 

I'll finish off with a quote from Leopold Mozart (1719-1787) from his Versuch einer Gr√ľndlichen Violinschule (1756) that makes me chuckle:

Many imagine themselves to have brought something wonderfully beautiful into the world if they befrill the notes of an Adagio cantabile thoroughly, and make out of one note at least a dozen.  Such note-murderers expose thereby their bad judgement to the light, and tremble when they have to sustain a long note or play only a few notes singingly, without inserting their usual preposterous and laughable frippery. 

21 Feb 2014

Weekly or Fortnightly lessons?

Most of my students come for weekly, hour-long lessons.  However, I'm often asked by potential students who are a bit short on either cash or time if half hour lessons would suffice, or if fortnightly lessons might be better.

Except with very young children (up to, say, seven years old) I would always recommend hour-long lessons.  At that age, even if they may not currently be capable of concentrating for 60 minutes, learning the self-discipline to be able to concentrate for an extended period of time is part of becoming a better musician - and it's a skill they can apply to everything they do.

And to the weekly/fortnightly question I always give the same answer:

I would rather have a fortnightly student who practised every day than a weekly student who didn't.

In other words, what you do away from the lesson is every bit as - if not more - important than what you do in the lesson.  I can't make you into a better musician; but I can show you how you can make yourself into a better musician. 
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