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Listening

September 12, 2011

Last night, I watched “Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again.”   It was an hour of the two of them reminiscing about their life in show business, which included several stories about their interactions with various celebrities.  They talked about Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant like, and I know this may sound silly, they were real people.

This is exactly how you need to be listening.  It’s easy to listen to recordings of your favorite artists and groups and, although intellectually know they are real, think of what they are doing as some magical-mystical-music-making that doesn’t exist in the same plane of consciousness as you.

This is Step 1 in Listening: Demystification.  The people making the music you respect are, in fact, real people.  Your favorite musician could be someone’s annoying friend who won’t stop forwarding jokes that weren’t funny before the internet existed.  Or worse- a Notre Dame fan.

Step 2 involves some logic, so follow me here:

  • I want to be able to do what my favorite player does on a specific recording.
  • Since my favorite player did it, it can be done.
  • Since it can be done, why can’t I be one who does it?

Once you start answering “why can’t I do it?” you may have some more stuff to practice.  Now instead of listening and just being amazed by the people you respect, you can use what they have done to help you grow.

Step 3 is to play along with your favorite recordings.  I have found that jazz players do this more than anyone else.  The benefits are not limited to jazz soloists.

For orchestral players:  If you’re working on any excerpt, listening to a few recordings should already be on your practice list.  Now add “Play along with recording” to that list.  If you’re matching your favorite 1st trumpet player in sound, time, pitch, articulations, and style- then you must sound pretty good.

Lead players: It’s difficult to learn how to play lead without playing with a good band.  Spend some time transcribing your favorite lead trumpet parts and playing them with the recordings.  The lead trumpet part is generally the easiest to transcribe, as it’s the top melodic voice of the band most of the time.  If you’re matching the lead player’s sound, time, pitch, articulations, and style- then you must sound pretty good.  (hmmm…..I sense a pattern here)

Classical Soloists:  Unless you have an accompanist at your beck-and-call, it can be challenging to practice performing a solo.  There are some good accompaniment tools out there, but why not play along with your favorite recording?  If you’re matching….well, I think you get it by now.

It’s time to make listening a real and productive part of your practice.

Now get to work.

 

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