Friday, January 29, 2010

Light practices

This week: Monday and Tuesday I had rehearsals, but didn't play otherwise, I think Wednesday I missed entirely, Thursday I played a few minutes with the kids, but nothing else, and today I got in about 10 minutes of long tones in the morning, which left me pretty tired. I think I'm feeling the effects of not enough actual practicing. Previously I'd managed to get into a cycle of almost an hour a day, which I ended up spending virtually all on long tones, scales and intervals. This was pretty good: you'd think that technique wouldn't improve at all without fast playing, but in fact it does, and in trying to come back, working on strength and tone is what it's about anyway. I think this is more serious practice than I'd ever done before, actually. Even at music camps, I'd be playing for many hours a day, but very little of that was long tones. So it really helps. After about an hour, I'd feel that I was done, but I'd also have run out of time and chops, and so would stop for the day, without have played a note of music. I suspect that people who are actually serious do multiple practices a day, so they can develop tone in one session, work their pieces in another, and so on. Still, an hour of long tones helps a lot. Even ten minutes is much better than zero, and helps maintain the practice of getting over the initiation barrier, but I doubt ten minutes a day is sustainable long term. I need to work hard enough to get tired, work hard enough to get some positive feedback -- improve something, learn something, have fun, just something. Too short, and it's hard for that to happen.

I've also starting thinking about the balance between practicing and making reeds. My initial goal was to learn enough so that I didn't feel trapped and stymied, and I think I'm there: I can now make reeds that I'm willing to play on. In fact, virtually every reed I've worked has been adequate at some level, though obviously they are all different, so I no longer fear being left with no reeds. Now, attaining excellence is something else, which will require a sustained effort over a long period. But absolute excellence in reeds is not the goal, rather it is a means to an end, and only one of many required for the ultimate goal of making music. So it would make sense to play more, and reed less.

In a similar vein, more observations. Awhile ago I pulled out one of the first reeds I made, one I'd abandoned for weeks. It played fine. It wasn't really worn out, maybe not surprising given that I've been moving on quickly to the next set of reeds, and also the fact that how long they last depends on how heavily they're used. So I've been driving my reedmaking by the need to practice reedmaking, rather than consuming reeds. Indeed, reeds can last a long time: in the Lacey article I quoted before, he uses a batch of 6-8 reeds for "many months", cleaning them by sonication after each use. I'd think that would help a lot, because I think the primary way reeds age is by accumulation of dead skin material in the pores of the blade, leading to dampening and deadening of the sound.

And finally, I was struck by a comment Norman Herzberg made, in an old interview I found. He was asked which was more important, time-wise: practicing or making reeds. A sharp question, because you can't just answer that both are critical: everyone has limited time, so there has to be a tradeoff. And he was a legendary expert both in teaching students and making reeds. His answer? Practicing, no question. In particular, without enough practice, you may not have the playing skill to demand more of your reeds, which is necessary to making them better. So, more practice, I guess, the answer to everything, no matter the question.

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