Friday, April 06, 2018

Positive Practice

Turns out I'll be stationed in Naples, Italy!!! 

I couldn't be more excited. Part of the job will be to play in the touring quintet which will take me to all sorts of countries all over the world, including Africa!! I can't wait to see Paris, and the Swiss Alps and Rome and so much more!!!!

Back-tracking to the audition preparation, when preparing for the Air Force and Navy auditions, there was a lot more to my process than was listed in my last post. Here are some more details about that experience and what I learned from it all and how I played my inner game.

While recording I tried to separate the creative process from the critiquing process. This is a mental technique I learned about from books like The Inner Game of Music and Performance Success. The first book states that the critiquing and creating processes cannot happen simultaneously in the brain. So I began actively trying to separate those two processes.
So when I was "creating" I was ONLY focusing on producing the sound. When listening back on the recording, I was "critiquing" by isolating what I wanted to fix. I did not critique while playing.
I tried to keep my criticism constructive and focused on what I wanted to do better.  So instead of beating myself up because I played something wrongly, I would isolate what I didn't like and set positive goals for my next performance every time I listened to the recordings.

An example of a positive goal would be "sustain pianissimo" or "use harder articulation."

What I did not do; I did not hear a bad take and tell myself what an abject failure I was at life, which anyone can do for any reason, or dwell upon all of my life's short-comings. It took years to let myself practice positively but it's been worth it. It's also much more objective to say "I didn't like my pitch on that note" or "I didn't like that articulation" rather than turning into an unproductive session of self inflicted injury like the monks below.

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem...

An unintentional side effect of positive practice was that I found myself performing with a type of determination that was fueled by all the goals I had set for myself while listening to my practice takes. This focused determination was the perfect antidote to stagefright, which used to be quite severe for me.
The type of mental direction created by aiming for positive goals gave me a sense of fearlessness that cut right through stage fright. It was a 180 degree game changer and all started with how I practiced on a psychological level. It's cliche to talk about the power of positivity but practicing positively instead of negatively gave me the mental fortitude to play excellently under pressure.

Check out my bio on the UT Austin alumi page. I'm famous now y'all!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Gone Pro

I won the Navy bassoon audition!!!

I'm so excited to have a performing job that will pay me a decent salary, even if I have to go through bootcamp to do it. (yes I still have to do bootcamp, bummers) I'll be with a fleet band, no idea where I'll get stationed yet but it could be 1 of 9 locations. I'm voting for warmer weather...

This of course means I won't be attending grad school after all. I'm sad to be giving up my dream but excited to be making a decent living and going on this exciting new adventure to unknown places!!!

Now let's talk about the audition process.

Making a tape for the air force band taught me a lot about how I practice and showed me exactly what I sound like. The sheer level of honesty I had to have with myself was difficult initially but got easier and caused my overall level of playing to increase significantly.
By becoming very picky with myself over the span of 2 weeks, I was able to make huge leaps and bounds without spending a ton of time practicing. I probably spent 2 hours a day with most of it spent recording myself and listening, so realistically I only had the bassoon in my hands for 45-60 minutes a day. I did not do this for 2 hours straight, I would break it up into chunks. Luckily for me my schedule permits that style of practice, it wouldn't work for everyone.

  • My practice sessions started with 5 minutes of long tones, I set a timer and turned off all electrical distractions and didn't stop playing long tones (in all registers) until it went off. 
  • Then I started recording.
    Record - Listen - Delete - Repeat
  • When I got a good one I saved it by writing down its number and proceeded to continue recording it until I had reached 30 minutes of recording (at least.)

This means that I would only get to 4 excerpts (or less) a day. Sometimes I would get an acceptable take, sometimes I wouldn't. I made an effort to forgive myself for the latter and exercise patience.

The way I critiqued and isolated what I didn't like in my recordings was based upon two factors: Pitch and Rhythm.
I would often practice with the metronome in my headphones and my tuner in front of me. This gave me instant feedback during practice performances (I treated each recording like a performance) and also helped in the focusing of my goals. Ultimately you cannot have a metronome and tuner on you while actually performing so it's important to truly internalize the precision required to execute the excerpt flawlessly.

I also used a Legere plastic reed for both the Air Force audition and the Navy audition, which was another game changer. While I loved using that reed (which is no longer fully functional sadly) I will say that bias against plastic reeds is still VERY strong. I mentioned using a plastic reed in the Air Force audition but did not for the Navy audition. I won the Navy audition. 'Nuff said? Obviously there's more to that story but you'll have to talk to me in person to hear it. lol

If you got through all of that, congrats and thanks for reading! I hope it was helpful. Remember to subscribe to my blog to hear more candid first person experiences from a bassoonist in todays musical climate.
Want to join my Skype studio? Online lessons are becoming increasingly popular, so grab a slot in my growing Skype studio by leaving a comment and/or sending an email!

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Mental Practice

Some may think this crazy, but mental practice can actually be much better for you than physical practice and ANYONE can do it!

Mental practice is rehearsing a known skill by visualization or variations of practice that don't involve the bassoon, such as Eurythmics or singing.

Here is an inspirational TED Talk suggesting that practice is fundamentally a mental game and that practice time in a distraction free environment is *critical* to effective practice.

Of course if you have never done something before, like play the bassoon, and you try to do mental practice to learn how.. this will not work.
Now before you throw your hands up in despair because 'mental practice doesn't work!' consider this:
you ARE in fact practicing even when you have no clue what you're doing.. but this is bad practice and it is likely to end up being a hindrance.

So mental practice IS effective, but be careful how you train your brain! We already know that focused practice is the way to improve but what if you practice badly? Will you perform badly? In short; yes you will perform badly. Preparation is everything!

In essence, mental practice is most effective when it is the mental clarification and repetition of a previously practiced skill.

Note: it is easy to do mental practice incorrectly, so this is the time when you should be very careful and strict with yourself.


   In this video Dr. Duke at The University of Texas at Austin and the Colburn School, who has done some brilliant research as to how our brains absorb information best, interviewed some of the top music teachers in the nation.

You can find this video and more like it at Center for Music and Human Learning

Monday, April 24, 2017

Try your Voicing

By the end of the year there are 2 questions I ask that I expect my students to answer and on which they can elaborate. We review these questions at every lesson and they guide my selection of every assignment for my students.

Teacher: "What are the two most important things in music?"
Student: "Pitch and rhythm." 

Teacher: "How do we control pitch on the bassoon?"
Student: "Air speed, embouchure and voicing."

Now if you're scratching your head and asking, "What is 'voicing?'" please let me elaborate.

All teachers know what it feels like to instruct a student to adjust intonation and it can be tough to teach if your student doesn't have much instinct for it.

Teacher: "Try to match the tuner."
Student: *grips instrument firmly, inhales deeply* "H00000OOOOoooooonk"

"Voicing" can make even the most confused students better able to grasp an otherwise difficult and advanced concept and helps put them in the driver's seat when playing their instruments. It gives them something quantifiable to use.
Bassoonists and all wind players, have been unwittingly using voicing for years, but this is my attempt to make the process more formulaic and address it in familiar terms.

There are 4 vowel sounds that make playing the bassoon much easier to explain and understand. Each register has its own recommended voicing. These are general markers, but bear in mind the lower you play the more open your voicing and the higher you play (until G4) the more closed your voicing.

Bb1-E2 using /U/ is advisable

F2 and G2 are transitory using full or partial hard /O/ 

A2-A3 is /AU/ as in taught 

B3-F4 is hard /E/

I will include an educational demonstration video soon. 

The Orchestral Bassoon addresses a similar topic but refers to voicing as merely a way to change "color" rather than pitch. There is much overlap between color and pitch so I focus on pitch over color. To clarify, I do not think that I and the author of The Orchestral Bassoon mean exactly the same thing when we use this term or even on how to use it. I am linking to it here so that you can see what someone else has to say and to pay due homage to a concept that did not completely originate with me.

Without terminology, expressing voicing in an unquantified way is very difficult and our only option. This is why playing exactly in-tune, especially starting in-tune, is considered an advanced skill. We teachers have a hard time explaining it and thus our students are left to themselves to discover (again in a non-verbal way) how to play in-tune with only their blinking tuner and undeveloped ears for feedback.

Once we start using familiar terms, in this case linguistic terms, we can start to make more accurate suggestions for what our students should do.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What is Practice?

First off, great news. I was recently accepted to the graduate bassoon program at UT Austin and will be doing so on a full ride! Woohoo!!! I'm so excited to have the amazing opportunity to work with other musicians and to hone my bassooning skills for the next 2 years!!

More good news, I recently sent a tape to the San Francisco Air Force Band and they gave me a call back. Audition is in April, wish me luck!!

This video got me really thinking about the purpose behind practice and how it actually works on a neurological level.. it's really fascinating. Take a look, you won't regret it.

Once you've watched the video, I'm sure you'll be as shocked as I am. The implications for musicians are incredible. It brings everything into a new light. We can now say "Once was a time it took 10,000 hours or 10 years to master a skill, now it takes (potentially) less than 1 year."
It also brings to light the very nature of what practice is. What we now know is that muscle memory is a myth.
Everything your PE coach told you is wrong. jk

So if we aren't training our muscles to learn something, what is doing the learning?
Our brains.
Our muscles are a crucial part to accomplishing anything obviously, but they only serve as the soldiers and your brain is the commander. If you already knew that, consider something else, your muscles can do nothing independently. That means anything and everything you play is controlled by your brain.
Have you been screwing up that fast passage recently? Time to stop retraining your fingers and start retraining your brain.

We already knew the key to perfect performance was perfect practice but I bet you didn't realize how close perfection was.. it's literally a neuron away...

Last thing: do you control your brain?

Ok then, there is nothing stopping you from perfect performance. Get it!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Reed Making Tutorial FAQ

Hey guys!

Check out my new Reed Making Tutorial on Youtube!

As always, email me if you have questions but below is a list of FAQs:

What is cane? 
The word CANE in this case is a collective plural like the word DEER (ex. look at all the wild deer in the forrest.) For our purposes the word CANE refers to pieces of bamboo in various stages of processing that are going to be used to make reeds.

Where can I get cane?
Here is a good source:

Why do I need cane?
You don't need it unless you want to make your own reeds. You can always buy reeds from a music shop or better yet, from your teacher. If you don't have a teacher, feel free to send me an email and we can arrange a lesson through my LessonFace platform, or you can book me directly through LessonFace. I would be happy to mail reeds to you!

What are all these names/types? (ex Rigotti, Rieger, Glotin, Donati, Gonzales)
These are brands of cane and tell you where the cane comes from. Different types of cane come from different parts of the world. You can google the location based upon the name of the cane. Just like brands of toothpaste (colgate, crest etc.) each brand of cane is slightly different. Cane is a living fiber like all plants, and depending on the weather, there can be variations in the quality of any cane harvest. So brand names can be important but variations in crops are to be expected.

What is the difference between shapes?
If you go to you will see different pictures of cane. You'll notice there are slight variations in the way the cane looks. Some of them are wider in the middle, some of them have end that flare outwards. I use the Rieger shape when I'm not using Legere Reeds, however I prefer Reiger #1 over Reiger 1A which isn't showing on their website at this point in time.

If this FAQ didn't answer your questions, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to help you!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Graduate School!!!

Wire placement measurements as promised in my Reed Tutorial 1

Some very exciting stuff has been happening and it's time for an update!

The fabled recording of "When Life Gives you Lemons" may ACTUALLY be completed in the upcoming year of 2017. Who knew making a recording like this would be so difficult, it's been an uphill battle for sure. Our first audio engineer dropped the project due to sudden lack of interest, and the second audio guy dropped off the face of the planet evidently... If you want anything done right you've got to do it yourself I guess. lol *dies a little inside*
Now that I have a computer again, I will be able to complete the recording myself and give credit to the brilliant work that has already been put in by the talented performers involved. *fingers crossed!*

In other news I am going back to graduate school for bassoon. Not sure where just yet, but I'm very excited by all the excellent options presenting themselves.

Currently I am working on a project to make learning how to make reeds less daunting for intermediate bassoon students. Some of my current students are starting to ask basic reed related questions so I'm optimistically hoping to make a series of short videos that answer questions pertinent to the daunting tasking of making your own reeds. The first tutorial is just past the first draft phase, I will post that video to this post when we finally decide to make it public. After that video is finished I'm hoping to make even shorter videos that shine light on specific issues that come up regarding the "how to" and where to find the correct materials to use, so your feedback is critically important! Ask me your questions via email and I will do my best to answer them in a video. :)

Until next time, thanks for reading :D