Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flams and frailty

I've been practicing quite a bit recently. I figure that, if I can consistently get up early, I can get a session in before I need to help get the kids out the door and get to work myself, and also do a session after the kids have gone to bed, and end up with two practices a day. This is probably more effective than a single longer practice, and I don't have the minutes to spend on a single long practice anyway. Plus, if you're able to take a nap sometime, you can get the neural growth benefits of learning while sleeping. My wife, who reads the neuro literature, assures me that 20 minutes is as good as a full night, at least as far as learning is concerned.

I need the time, too. Here's advice from an anonymous Hannover grad student, forwarded to an IDRS board:

Work on sustaining your tone - LONG sustained TONES with tuner in front of you!
STOP vibrating until you have absolute control on your tone. Just so you know: vibrato is only a mean of expression, thus you use it when you decide you want to add color to a note that is important. When you decide you want to vibrate don't do it below the low F - it's ugly - think open string cello string, otherwise it sounds like a 72 year old baritone singer! Later on after you fixed your problems and get a solid tone, don't vibrate all the time, it's like not vibrating at all. Less is more this time. Do vibrato exercises for 6 months - 1 year, without actually vibrating in your playing! Don't use your vibrato randomly, or to hide your pitch flaws.

NO VIBRATO! I promise things will be better. PATIENCE! and lots of practice!

4 hrs of practice a day MINIMUM! STANDING! I am very serious...any respectable future artist/bassoonist should be beyond comfortable doing that. It will improve everything!

Aprox. 2 Hr of "warm up":
1.long tones from low b flat, nice round resonant, full, singing tone ( not ff) to the highest note you possibly can, and back - same even nice round tone ALWAYS. Try to have a firm embouchure, but not squeeze. Just let the air flow!!! Don't be scared!

2.Stacatto on the same note from low F to the highest note in 16th notes , equal, 8 beats each note. Start at a lower tempo. quarter note 116...and try to achieve a goal of lets say 140. lol

3. Trills, half and whole step...on all fingers...start slow and controlled! in mf-f.

4.SCALES: control so its sounds like a piano...THAT exact. in 8th notes and then 16th notes, legato, stacato, two slurred two tongues, slur every 2 16th notes, and then move the slur one 16th note. This is the msot important part of your routine for even fingers. See that you always have a nice, round even tone. The problem is the sound dying in the tenor register.
-different patterns in slow 16th WITH METRONOME ALWAYS! But you have to also do them in THIRDS, FOURTHS and ARPEGGIOS
- different articulation. First slow, controled and then increase speed over time.
DO THEM EVERY DAY! not every other day, not three times a week ..and so on! Practice with the metronome marking at the highest where you can play everything even, clean and clear!!!! so as low as quarter note 60...or less! The point is NOT speed, but accuracy!

Start with Weissenborn, then Milde! JUST those two will be great for now.
ALWAYS - very important - be careful at every tie, every link note to note...no crack, no pop, no hiss, no weird percussive sound. When you tongue it should always be clear, but not hard! Listen to lots of singers, opera how they phrase...good ones: Pavarotti, Domingo, try to be as smooth as them, listen to Dag play, Azzolini, Thunemann!
Try to also work on your imagination in playing, make a plan.

Not only will make you better, but it will make you GREAT! But it will ONLY make you as great as you are willing to REALLY be picky about the accuracy of them! All of this I am telling you is pointless if you are not REALLY picky! Don't let anything slide, everything clean and perfect!

A little advice: I hope you are serious about this...otherwise you might think of an alternative career. It is really hard to make it as a good bassoonist, there are plenty of good bassoonists. But if you really love it and are COMPLETELY dedicated to music and bassoon then go for it, you are made for it. But it is all up to you. Remember: when YOU don't practice, SOMEONE else is! Ok? But this has to be an EVERY DAY thing, otherwise you're wasting YOUR time and resources.

ALL has to be done STANDING up. Lessons, practice, not ensembles of course!
Try investing in a Heckel Bocal: CC2 or CC1. Those are the best. I use on, Dag uses one, and every other good bassoonist uses one! Call www.mmimports.com to try some. I know they're expensive, but if you ever decide to sell them, they're easy to sell! It will make ALL the difference in the world!

Practice with the metronome marking at the highest where you can play everything even, clean and clear!!!! so as low as quarter note 60...or less! The point is NOT speed, but accuracy!

ALWAYS play on good reeds!

Forget about solo/orchestral suff for 6 months! Ok? Because you have a whole lifetime to play those. But if you don't get the fundamentals right, you're screwed..bad habits that will haunt you and you will have problems all your life with. So, 6 months doesn't seem that bad, eh?

I spend a lot of time on the scales. More than M says I should, really. But I'd really like to be clean, and my ear is well tuned to hear all the junk between notes. Sometimes I spend time practicing flams. Based on a drum flam, I'll take a note transition, say B to D above the staff (B3 to D4) and intentionally play it wrong, moving first one of my fingers before the other, then again reversed. This allows me to hear what the various inaccuracies sound like, and then identify what kind of mistake I'm making when I try to play it clean. The point between at which the note is clean is often surprising to me. It's astonishingly difficult to be as precise as the ear can hear: temporal resolution in hearing goes down to 10's of microseconds, JASA 113:2790, a time difference that can't even be represented in CD quality audio, since it's at ~100kHz. Note transitions are orders of magnitude slower than that, of course, I'd guess maybe 10-100 milliseconds, but it still demonstrates that there's tons of time for beautiful, or less than beautiful, music in between the notes. So, thinking about note transitions, plus relaxing my hands (especially pinkies) while blowing hard enough to make beautiful tone, for every note in the scale... and just my scales take me quite a while.

As a result of this unaccustomed practice regimen, I've started to experience a variety of physical symptoms. I had abdominal soreness one day last week for a day, doubtless a sign of increasing muscle use. A few days ago I spent a day with my lips feeling sore and perhaps somewhat inflamed. I've abraded enough skin from my lips to make me worry about what it would cost, in terms of practice, to actually develop a cut. And I've had some jaw muscle pain, which makes me wonder if I'm clenching, either while playing or during the rest of my life. I also have some thumb joint pain occasionally, particular in the left thumb, but as I focus on keeping every finger curved and relaxed at every moment while I'm playing, and keeping the motions small and from the largest joint possible, I hope these spontaneously resolve. Avoiding pain is probably important, Stephen Caplan has an article re training for double reed players to avoid pain, and I recall long sections about running injuries in The Lore of Running devoted to diagnosing and correcting the problems without stopping running.

Is this level of investment sustainable, long term? Or even necessary, long term? Probably not, and I've already started to get some pushback. But I'm hoping that there are skills that once acquired don't require multiple hours a day to sustain. After all, I'm an amateur, but I'd like to be able to make the horn play.

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