Music Mastery Practice Tips Newsletter, Issue 8

December 2009

This fall has been one of the most stressful in my normal school job, so my time to be active on the website has been minimal. This is probably obvious due to the fact that the September newsletter is out in December!

First of all, welcome to all the new subscribers! I am now getting a steady stream of 2 to 3 new subscribers a week. Thank you for your interest!

A few exciting website-related things have happened this fall. First, I was selected as one of eight national finalist in the Smart Music "Share Your Story" Contest. Voting occurred in September, and I was awarded an honorable mention and a $200 gift card to J.W. Pepper! A special thank you to any of you on my mailing list who voted for me.

Secondly, I was interviewed for an article that is going to appear in Flute Talk Magazine about teaching music lessons online via webcam. I am hopeful that it will increase interest in my webcam lessons offerings.

Third, due to the excellent connections I am making on Twitter, I had a new commission to write a middle school band piece for @woodwindtech to conduct with the All Shore Intermediate Band in New Jersey. He ended up not being able to use the piece, so it is available to any band director that is interested. Check out a midi recording of Eternal Majesty: An Homage To Nature on my Compositions page.

Robot Dance cover
Fourth, and by far the most exciting news of the fall, my first published work for concert band hit the shelves in September! Robot Dance is a piece for elementary band depicting the angular movements of the title in a vehicle designed to teach students rhythmic independence and expose them to minor tonalities. You can listen to a recording of the piece on my Compositions page, and you can purchase a copy from J.W. Pepper. If you know any elementary band directors, please refer them to my piece. Thank you!

Recommendation of the Month

product picture
Boss TU-80C Chromatic Tuner & Metronome is an inexpensive yet versitile tool that can help individuals develop both better pitch control and consistency of technique using the tone generation and time-keeping features. If you are looking for a basic tuner and metronome combination to put on your music stand while practicing, something as simple as this will do the trick.




Fall Highlights

The following articles were the most widely-read on ThomasJWestMusic.com this fall:

Talent is a Four-Letter Word: What You and Michael Jackson Have In Common: What do you and I have in common with MJ? He loved music and performing. Our society has scared us away from our birthright to enjoy music firsthand. We have accepted a life where we experience music second-hand, performed by "talented people" in a music consumership. Why did we ever stop making music and start buying it from a supplier?... Read more

Neurology Applied: How Science is Bringing Music Instruction Back to Expressive Development: You have between your ears the most advanced processor ever seen. With the advent of MRI, CaT scans, and now PET scans, neurologists have made amazing discoveries in just how amazing the human brain really is. Their research gives us clearer and clearer pictures of how the human brain assimilates new knowledge, practices that knowledge, and is amazingly flexible and pliable in its application. Read more

A Brass Player's Primary Tool for Tone Production - the B.E.R.P.: Any brass player worth their salt knows that the instrument itself is basically a channeler and amplifier for the thing that really produces the instrument's vibration, which happens to be the human lips. A brass player spends the majority of their practice time developing control, range, flexibility, and tone quality of the brass embouchure in much the same way a vocalist works for control and ease of use of the vocal folds. Read more

iSchoolBand - a safe Facebook for the Band Room and More: At the end of June, I was invited by the developers of iSchoolBand to participate in their Alpha launch and provide some feedback. The "about" page on their website describes iSchoolBand as "social music technology" containing "a private social network, a dynamic media and document library, and several group management tools for parents, boosters, instruments, and bands." Read more

Today's Practice Tip: Use Model Recordings

The best musicians listen as much as they perform. Despite having instructors such as their fathers and "Papa Haydn," both Beethoven and Mozart perfected their craft by listening to performances of the masters that came before them.

As an instrumentalist, particularly of a wind or bowed string instrument, listening to model recordings serves primarily as a source of comparison for tone quality. One of the most important developmental points for young performers is developing the characteristic tone of their instrument. In a school setting, especially at the primary level, very few role models are present. As a teacher, I often play with and for my students to serve as a model. I have worked on playing all the major orchestral instruments and can produce characteristic tone on most of them.

Students in general do not hear quality recordings of their instruments in mainstream media. Bowed strings are always background "pathos" in pop tunes, and brass and saxes are normally performed with the bright jazz/studio tone quality appropriate for that style of music. Students have probably never heard the elegance of a string quartet, the richness of a saxophone quartet, or the auditory bliss that is a well-performed trombone choir.

In addition to serving as a tone quality showcase, recordings demonstrate what is possible on the instrument, both in general and at its virtuosic extremes. It is both humbling and empowering to hear a master at work on an instrument. I have had many young students who hear their older classmates performing something more complex who were motivated to new heights in their admiration.

For aspiring jazz musicians, listening is a requirement. Jazz is primarily (still) an aural artform. Despite the excellent resources available now to the educator, the preferred way to learn jazz is still to have a "jazzer" teach you in person. Jazz music as an artform is all about the individual expression of each player in an open dialogue with one another. Listening to the masters, or even just a well-performed professional player, is critical to the development of a jazz musician. The classic "jam session" was all about hanging together and trading musical ideas.

Listening to role models is critical to the development of any musician. Incorporating listening into a student's practice regimen is an important facet of their development.

Until next time,

Tom

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