Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 320 of Practice: Lessons from a Lesson

Yesterday, I took a lesson. I like to check in with a more accomplished musician from time to time, for coaching and outside input on style, technique, to correct any errors that I am not seeing/hearing, and for creative input on tunes that I've been playing. Me, I've been studying with Shannon Heaton off and on for eight years or more. When I still lived in Boston, we did nearly weekly lessons, but more recently, once or twice a year. And it's always incredibly helpful.

Shannon is a fabulous teacher and I recommend her to everyone.

Here's what I got from my own lesson... my own things to work on:

Putting A cuts in the right places. For a long time, I had trouble doing good A cuts, so had developed a habit of simply not using them in lots of places where they really belong. Cuts often work well in the 2s + 4s of a tune to accentuate the upbeat and drive the tune forward. This, of course, depends on the tune, so it's not a hard and fast rule, just a tendency.

Not tonguing quite so much, using more "throat" stops for Double-D notes. Over the last few months, I've noticed that I've been developing a specific articulation style to accentuate phrasing, and that's okay sometimes... but often, using a cut is a better way to articulate a phrase in Irish traditional playing. And, because I came from a classical and jazz background, I tongue notes. But... please, Soul Mama, don't use so much tonguing in Irish flute.

Breathing before you run out of air. Breathing more often in tunes varies the phrasing and it makes all of the notes more solid because your air is supporting them. In flute playing, typically you breathe in place of a note. However, you really have to know the tune to be able to land in the right place when you leave out a note to breathe. Practice breathing in more places than you may even need, to get used to a variety of phrasing possibilities.

Slowing it down, being more deliberate. This makes for a more confident sound, but it also allows you time to pay attention to the tune, and not to anything else, while playing.

Refining my cran. The cran must follow a specific rhythmic pattern, and I knew that. Yet, for the last year or so, I've been practicing my own brand of cran nearly every day, and guess what? That cran doesn't work. I knew it didn't work but couldn't bear to open up Grey Larsen's book (I have it only because someone bequeathed it to me) and read technical text about it. Not my thang. In my mind, I had to learn it from a real person. So, I did, and now I understand.

And finally, perhaps you will also find inspiration from a few good reminders:

Good reminder 1: You can't just "do things your own way" when playing traditional music; there are a certain number of stylistic conventions in the music that you must master, and from a firm foundation in traditional style, you certainly may venture... but as always, if you stray too far from traditional Irish ornamentation, you are no longer playing traditional Irish music. First, master the style and from that foundation, you can refine a personal playing style.

Good reminder 2: Get with people who can play, better than you. Learn traditional music from a PERSON not a book.

Good reminder 3: No one can see or hear all their own mistakes. Find a teacher you really like and who's supportive. You'll feel all warm and snuggly inside, and you'll learn something.

Good reminder 4:
Everyone plays it "much better at home," and flubs it up in lessons. That's part of the Law of Musician's Evolution. The second Law of Musician's Evolution is that eventually, this won't happen anymore. If you decide to work on it.

Good reminder 5:
Listen to as much great recorded music as you can.

Good reminder 6:
Don't get worried if you make mistakes while you're playing. If you're playing a tune and you flub up a few notes, just watch them go by and keep moving forward. If you let those mistakes get to you, your focus won't be on the music. It will be on your mistakes.

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