Get Organized to get the Gig

By Adam Groh

‘Tis the season…for audition preparation. That’s right, at a time when most “normal” people are looking forward to a relaxing Christmas break, countless percussionists are gearing up for grad school auditions in the early spring. For that group of people, the break from classes means a perfect chance for getting extra practice time in. With that in mind, I decided to write a couple blog posts about getting ready for auditions. This is the first of those posts…

One of the most challenging aspects of getting ready for an audition is managing all the repertoire that you have to prepare. There is no other musician who has to juggle as much material, on as many instruments, as we do. A normal graduate school audition can include solo repertoire on marimba, snare drum, and timpani, as well as orchestral excerpts on a variety of instruments, plus the possibility of things like drum set styles, multi-percussion solos, etc. There are a couple strategies that have worked for me in the past when trying to manage all of the material that I have to prepare, and I’m hopeful that they can work for others.

The first step is to get yourself organized on paper. Hopefully your prospective schools are flexible with their repertoire requirements which allows you to use the same material at multiple auditions. Begin by making a master list of all the material that you have to prepare for all of your auditions. Group it by instrument, keeping the solos separate from the excerpts. This will show you exactly how much you need to get ready over the next couple of months.

After you’ve got your master list, do some diagnosis. Figure out what things you’re going to need to do the most work on. For example, if you’re putting three xylophone excerpts together, but you have played two in the past, you’ll probably want to spend the majority of your time on the one excerpt that you have no experience with. In short, decide what the best use of your time will be, and weight each item against the others. This method corresponds with Don Greene’s ideas in Audition Success about “red, yellow, and green” labels for things. If you don’t know the book, it’s worth checking out.

At this point you know what you need to do and what you need to emphasize. Now it’s time for the real organization… Scheduling. I always plan out my practice schedule way in advance of an important audition. Not to add to the stress, but graduate school auditions can be an important and life-altering time. It’s not a time to just wing it and hope that it all works out for the best. I get pretty crazy about scheduling. I figure out when my first audition is, and work backwards. I write down days on the calendar for mock auditions, usually putting my first one about two weeks in front of the first audition. At that point I want to have all of my material playable. That gives me a chance to record a full run, take inventory, and budget my practice time as best as I can in the home stretch. I’ll schedule mock auditions with increasing frequency over the last two weeks to get used to playing everything through. You can check out my previous post about that part of the process.

However, prior to that last two weeks I have a very strict schedule. I like to divide my week into two groups… Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. I never plan out Sunday so that I can use it for whatever things I feel the least comfortable about from the preceding week’s practice sessions. Then I divide up my material so that it’s evenly split between the two groups of days. You may notice that by doing this I am not practicing anything every day of the week. That might seem crazy, but it works. The human brain is constantly searching for order and logic and patterns. You can actually practice things less frequently (but more consistently) and have better results than if you were just trying to figure out what to do each time you walked in the practice room.

There are two ways to divide up your material. Basically, you can choose to either do each instrument on a particular day, or you can spread it out so that you play all of your instruments on each day, but alternate the material. For example, you could organize by instruments as such…

MWF – Marimba solo(s), Xylophone excerpts, Timpani excerpts and solo

TThS – Snare drum solo and excerpts, Glock excerpts, Accessory instrument excerpts

In that set up you confine each instrument to a specific set of days. You could also set up your schedule so that you touch each instrument every day, like so…

MWF – Marimba solo (4-mallet), Snare drum excerpts, Timpani solo, Xylo excerpt 1 & 2, Glock excerpt 1

TThS – Marimba solo (2-mallet), Snare drum solo, Timpani excerpts, Xylo excerpt 3, Glock excerpt 2 & 3

There are good elements to both arrangements, and I’ve had success with both. Some of this may depend on your individual situation and practice facilities. If you know that you’ll be able to get access to all the instruments every single day then you could do the second arrangement. If you think it will be harder to get into all the practice rooms then you may choose the first option so that you don’t need to rely on room availability. You may even choose to plan out what time you’ll practice each item on its designated day, but don’t get yourself scheduled so tight that you can’t adjust if necessary. If someone is in the marimba room at 10am on Monday when you planned to practice, it shouldn’t ruin your entire day of practice. Be flexible and move things around so that you can still get to the marimba later on without missing a beat. (No pun intended)

The most important thing with all of this is to make sure that you are giving each item from the master list that you made its fair share of time. That time should also be consistently scheduled so that you can get in a routine and maximize efficiency. As time progresses you can alter your schedule to make up for things that need more or less work. If your snare drum etude is doing great, but your 4-mallet marimba solo needs some more work, instead of sticking with one hour for each, do 30 minutes on the snare drum etude and an hour and a half for marimba.

If you can get yourself organized you will greatly increase your chances of having a successful audition. More often than not, I find that the people who struggle with auditions have not prepared in a way that sets them up for success. Be meticulous with your preparation and organization and it will show in your playing!

How do you organize your time when preparing for auditions? What techniques have led to success, especially while balancing so much material? Discuss it in the comments.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 29, 2010 by Adam Groh.

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The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by William Murphy on Flickr.com.

“What if…”

‘Tis the season of new years resolutions. In that spirit I thought it would be a good time to re-post something I wrote a few years back. The following post, dedicated to the memory of Jeffrey Weng, is a good reminder (if only for me!) that we often live too carefully, afraid to take the chances to reach for the things we dream of. For what its worth….

“What if…”

You only get one shot… at this thing called life. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my short life-span it is that you never want to wonder “what if…”. You pursue things not just to wonder if you can achieve them, but to ultimately answer “what if”… No one likes to fail, but what if that is the only way to “know” for sure? To know “if” you were supposed to do this, or go there. Doesn’t a clear “No”, or “failure” point toward the other direction? (Where you currently are..) Couldn’t it help you stay and persist on your current path? Isn’t there some benefit in “knowing where you can’t or weren’t supposed to go”?

Why are we all so afraid of failing? Without failure there is no taste of success. Without failure success would have no meaning! Deep down, I think we all wish we could feel better about admitting failure! In failure we learn the most. The most about who we are and who we are supposed to become. In failure we find drive, drive to over achieve and move forward. Being human means being flawed. If we don’t acknowledge that than we have already lost! Embrace your flaws and don’t be afraid to admit to them. Our flaws define our own “musicianship”. A musicianship that can never be duplicated because perfection would be “antiseptic” at best!

Couldn’t we all ask ourselves the question: “What if I….. (fill in the blank)”. In success we achieve a dream.. in failure we are reaffirmed in our current path. Either way we are left confident in who we are and what we are doing! Or, are YOU afraid of exposing yourself? Sure, it is risky… to go for it, actually try and live your dreams, but wouldn’t it be better to risk all? Risk everything just to find out: “What if?”….. At least then, no matter what happens, you WILL KNOW “what if..”.

Dedicated in memory of Jeffrey Weng: 7/1/89 – 2/15/09

What new years resolutions are you looking to make? Leave your comments below.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 26, 2010 by Thomas Burritt.

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The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by William Murphy on Flickr.com.

Christmas Boomwhackers

Santa is coming tonight and we want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. As you put together the bike for your kids, be sure to check out Christmas Boomwhackers.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 24, 2010.

December for Marimba by Daniel Berg

This video features marimbist Daniel Berg performing his own piece entitled “December”. It includes some great visual representations of the winter season. What are your favorite winter seasonal videos? Share them in the comments.

Daniel Berg teaches the marimba in the University College of Music in Gothenburg (Sweden). To download tracks from his latest recording “In a Landscape: Marimba Solo” click here.

The Black Page – Frank Zappa

Today is Frank Zappa Birthday and in honor of his special day, we would like to share one of his most famous pieces for drum set, The Black Page. This video features Terry Bozzio and Steve Vai with the Zappa plays Zappa band. The video begins with the Black Page #1, which was originally written as a solo for Terry Bozzio. He explains:

Zappa wrote it because we had done this 40-piece orchestra gig together and he was always hearing the studio musicians in LA that he was using on that talking about the fear of going into sessions some morning and being faced with ‘the black page’. So he decided to write his “Black Page”. Then he gave it to me, and I could play parts of it right away. But it wasn’t a pressure thing, it just sat on my music stand and for about 15 minutes every day for 2 weeks before we would rehearse, I would work on it. And after 2 weeks I had it together and I played it for him. And he said, “Great!” took it home, wrote the melody and the chord changes, brought it back in. And we all started playing it. (Reference)

The second part, which features guitarist Steve Vai, is the Black Page #2. After the popularity of the Black Page #1, Zappa decided to write a melody so the entire band could perform this piece.

Has anyone ever played the Black Page? Let us know your thoughts and experiences with this piece. Leave a comment below.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 21, 2010.

Guiding Principle #4: From Macro to Micro – Part 1

Guiding Principle #4: From Macro to Micro
By Thomas Burritt

Holy Macro… Part I

Having a passion for pedagogy has taught me a lot over the years. One important idea that I’ve developed along the way has to do with perspective. I’ve found that a student can learn more quickly by focusing on general perspectives or guiding principles. These general ideas work to enable the student to apply and connect specific techniques to the aesthetics of musicality (phrasing/interpretation). Each post in this series will focus on a different “guiding principle”, a general concept or idea that can point artists in the right direction.

Guiding Principle #1 focused on identifying and acknowledging the war going on inside of you between your “true self” and your “ego”. Spending time only with your “ego” results ultimately in misery while spending time with your “true self” produces personal fulfillment and artistic inspiration. Guiding Principle #2 outlined the importance of connecting daily to our “true self”, selfishly spending regular creative time that encourages inspiration to pervade our musical expressiveness on a regular basis.
With the big picture laid out, we can now re-think how and why we practice and perform our crafts. Today we look at the process of learning. More specifically, how we do we tackle learning a piece of music?

Guiding Principle #4: From Macro to Micro.

If you look up the word “Macro” in a dictionary you will find something along these lines: (also called macro instruction) a single instruction that expands automatically into a set of instructions to perform a particular task. This definition implies that a single, large scale perspective, can direct and define a set of smaller instructions that aid in the achievement of a task.

So, lets take the next step and apply this idea to a specific task.

Task: Learn the marimba solo “Velocities” by Joseph Schwantner.
(please note that this process can be applied to a variety of tasks…)

Large Scale Perspective (or single instruction): Start from the Macro (large) and work down to the Micro (small).

Macro Instruction #1: Composer Context (broad, nothing to do with the piece)
Who is Joseph Schwanter? And, what are the 3-4 single most important features/qualities of his music?
Subsequent smaller instructions:
Research composer background.
Increases appreciation of composers work as a whole
Listen and learn about the important features and qualities the the music.
Important features of a composer’s music can direct specific stroke types, stickings, mallet choice, and other technical considerations.

Macro Instruction #2: Formal Analysis (broad, but generally related to the piece)
Subsequent smaller instructions:
Directs the order of learning sections.
Why learn a piece only from the beginning to the end?
Learning like sections solidifies formal understanding.

Macro Instruction #3: Intertwine the academics of analysis with the aesthetics of performance. (less broad but specific to the piece, more micro)
Subsequent smaller instructions:
Application is the name of the game here. This step is all about applying the macro to help us learn the micro.

Looking ahead to part II:
As you can see, the model above progresses from the very broad (#1) to the specific (#3). Part II will discuss the specifics of each step above, hopefully clearing up some of these ideas. As you process some of these ideas think about the following questions:

What kinds of information related to a composer can be helpful to a performer?
Why is it important to always understand the musical form of a work you are performing?
When learning a work, what processes direct your phrasing/interpretation decisions?

Part II will come later this week, and will answer the above questions. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts to the questions above. Leave your comments below.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 19, 2010 by Thomas Burritt.

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The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by William Murphy on Flickr.com.

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