Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Tuning Slide- Why?

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words.
It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones,
it’s in the bones.
― Keith Richards, According to the Rolling Stones

In some of my surfing this past week I came across the website of Joshua MacCluer, trumpeter, educator, performance coach. One of the links was to a post he wrote titled "10 Principles for Learning Music for Beginning and Amateur Musicians." While most of us are probably well past the "beginner" level, I found the list a good refresher of what we are all about as musicians. It also reminded me that even if I am not a professional musician or music educator, many times it is in the ensemble work of learning from each other that we can make a lot of progress. This blog has been for me a way to concretize my own learning and practice as a musician.

Back to MacCluer, though. Here are his first five principles. Comments in italics are from his explanation:

1) Start with the “Why?”
  • If we forget our real “Why?” while we are playing we might start thinking the answer is something like, “I want to not make mistakes” or “I want to get it right” or “I want to not embarrass myself” or “I want to win this audition” or one of many ego-based desires that make music making much more difficult. Instead, we should figure out our real personal “Why?” and remind ourselves regularly, especially while we are playing music. This is very important.
What is your real "Why?"

Several of mine- I can't stop making music. My life without it would be dull. The performance is one of the ways of sharing joy. My mind is expanded, skills developed, joy embodied. It's been happening for almost 55 years now.

2) The goal is to learn to speak music, not to learn how to play an instrument.
  • Music is a language. Therefore, like any language, the foremost goal is communication. If we want to learn how to communicate with music, it is much more important to learn what music is and how it works and how to express ourselves with it... I believe a lot of music can be more easily learned away from the instrument, or using other instruments like our ears, imagination, voices, hands, feet and bodies.
I discovered this several years ago when I started playing in a Big Band. Almost all of my trumpet playing for decades was "concert" material- the great repertoire of wind bands. While I had listened to jazz and Big Band for just as many decades I had little experience playing it. I found it was a whole new world. I struggled. A lot! Fortunately I was 4th trumpet and could easily drop back (or out) when it got to the tougher parts without being missed. While I "knew" the language of jazz and big band, I couldn't "speak" it with my horn. I still had the wind band to play in and there, even with new numbers, I could drop back into a style and language I knew. It kept my chops up and helped me technically while I was learning to speak "jazz."

I am now able to do a lot more with that 4th trumpet part. Last summer at Shell Lake Big Band I learned I know the language and can even play some of the improvising. I am becoming more multi-lingual.

3) At the beginning, there are no mistakes or rules.
  • Self judgement closes down the mind and kills learning... The principle here is don’t worry about mistakes. It’s not about “getting it right” it’s about expression. Just play and have fun, and learn quickly and easily like a child
I will be doing a lot more with this one over the next couple months with the Inner Game ideas. Suffice it to say, this is important!

4) All hail the groove! Find and feel the groove before you play.
  • The groove is where the magic lives in the music.... The first step of playing music is to connect to the groove. How to do that? Quiet your mind and try to feel it. Focus on the feeling of the music and getting that feeling into your body. You will know you have found it when your body starts to want to move with the groove.
This can be an important part of learning the language talked about above. I know, almost instinctively, the "groove" of a Sousa march, a Holst Suite, an Alfred Reed or Samuel Hazo arrangement. I read over the piece, even if I have played it before, and my body wants to move with it.  That's the groove. With jazz I have felt the groove through decades of listening. Now I am learning how to express that movement through the horn.

5) Don’t worry about the notes! Make it feel right!
  • Here’s a secret about music: people don’t listen to music, they feel it. If a song has all the right notes but doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t work.... Right notes with bad rhythm are wrong notes... Victor Wooten’s Rule #1, “Never lose the groove to find a note.” ... If you play a wrong note with perfect rhythm, in most cases most people will not even notice. It will slide right past their ears because the feeling is right.
Naturally this doesn't mean play whatever you want. That is the language of gibberish, the mumbling and noise of pre-language. But it does mean that it is more than just the right notes, the technically correct but lifeless string of notes. Remember in a language that the same words are available to the high school student essayist and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. It's more than using the words, it is how and why (!) you use them. It is the passion and emotion embodied in them. Feel the music- let the feeling flow.

 I am excited by these principles. They lay more of that foundation that is essential to the continuing growth of my music. I will explore more of these in the next five of MacCluer's principles next week.

What are your reasons "Why?" Let me know.

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