The Monsters We Make

I shall name the above monster:

The Ding-Slurp

More about that later.

So often, I see students decide that a passage is difficult. Once they have placed that label on the music, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

We see that batch of notes, we think, “Oh man, that’s difficult.” and we tense up accordingly.

This reminds me of that famous experiment with Pavlov and the dogs.

The bell is the stimulus, the salivation is the response.

Do we have similar learned responses?

As you listened to that music, perhaps you envisioned yourself getting ready to play the solo. Did it evoke a learned response?

Students studying for psychology tests will sometimes encapsulate this Pavlovian experiment as the “ding-slurp” theory.
Thus, the name of our monster!

So, if we have developed a learned response that hinders us, we’ll have to learn a new response to replace the old one.

Here’s one simple example. When a younger student is struggling to play higher notes, they often label a note as ‘really high’ and proceed to freak out. Stepping away from the music, I simply play a gliss from 6th to 1st and back down, asking them to imitate me. Back and forth we go, moving to higher partials. When they hit the partial on which they can’t gliss to 1st position, I suggest that they just gliss to 3rd instead. In each case, I play and ask them to imitate.

Usually, they end up playing higher than they thought they could!
Then, I tell them what high note they just reached and even write it down on the page.

Sometimes, their eyes grow wide with the thought,
“Whoa, I just played *that* note?”
Now they are looking at the printed note (stimulus) and realizing that they just played with far more ease than they thought possible (new learned response).

It’s a good beginning.

Pause to consider what monsters you create as you practice your music.

Shining Moments

What happens after you finish playing a piece?

Your mind automatically fixates on the things that didn’t go well. That’s human nature, I guess.
However, if you only criticize yourself for the bad moments, without giving equal praise for the ‘shining moments,’ practicing and performing can become a pretty dark affair.

Don’t live in denial, vaguely thinking that everything is just wonderful. But I have found that acknowledging the good moments is a more effective ‘springboard’ for improvement.

How to get started with this?

Here’s a simple trick:
1. Play a passage twice.
2. Ask yourself which one was better. Which one had more ‘shining moments?’

See if you can replicate that success.

Always building, always finding something positive in your playing is just as valid as finding all the negatives.

Slide and Air

In legato, we sometimes allow the air to ‘bump’ when the slide moves.
The air is driven by the phrase, not the slide.
To help separate the two, try this little exercise:

Balanced Head

Stand tall but relaxed. Tilt your head this way and that. Begin to notice where it nicely balances over your center of gravity.

That’s where our heads should be when we play.

Why don’t we do this all the time? Here are too common reasons.

  1. The music stand is too low so we tilt down to see it.
  2. When sitting in an ensemble, there’s no place to fit our slides so we tuck them below the stand.
  3. That head is pretty heavy! Keep it balanced and you feel less stress while playing.