by Patrick Godfrey
As musicians, we are all scared of being creatively boxed in. We all strive to use our original ideas to please not only our audience, but ourselves. With today’s technology, and an audience eager to hear new things, there are many ways to improve our musical abilities. By briefly steering away from the textbooks.
If you are finding yourself missing notes more often than the person beside you, and those technical books just aren’t cutting it, look no further. One key to note accuracy is ear training. Every instrumental musician has a singer inside that needs to be let out in order to be accurate while playing. Practicing simple singing can improve your playing faster than you might think. The more you actively listen to yourself, the more you can learn where the notes will fall.
To practice this technique, no fancy studio is required. You already have two great studios at your disposal. Sing in the shower or in your car. These two convenient locations allow you to hear yourself so you can recognize where pitches should be.
Singing is just like throwing a ball. Without even thinking about it, we can train ourselves to throw a ball at any reasonable distance with variant speeds. Our minds subconsciously think about distance and speed, do the math and we throw the ball with amazing accuracy.
This same method applies to hitting a correct note. Before we want to play a note we must think about where it is and how much air it will take to get there. After practicing, just like throwing a ball, our minds do the math and accurately provide us with the pitch and air support required for any given note.
When we are all young musicians we face performance anxiety. This annoying physiological function can turn our hours in the practice room into a shaky mess during the performance. The unfortunate thing about this anxiety is that we all have to find out what works for us as individuals to reduce stress. The most simple fixes are: cutting down on caffeine, eating larger amounts of potassium, and doing basic meditative exercises to help relieve some stress. However, one of the best fixes for performance anxiety is confidence. Going into a concert completely prepared can greatly improve your attitude when you are sitting in front of your music on stage. This confidence requires time.
Also, get familiar with the music you have to practice. Practicing doesn’t have to be sitting down with your music with a metronome ticking away and a tuner telling you that you’re off. Practicing your music can be as simple as listening to the piece and singing along with your part in hand. Once your ear knows the piece, you have to learn the fingerings and sing through your horn. Once you master confidence in your abilities, the rest will follow.
We all want to be better musicians. There is always someone we wish we could sound like. To better yourself musically, you will have to pick up your horn and play. You can play whatever you want however you want, as long as you’re playing.
The more styles of music you can play the better musician you can be. If we get stuck in our own specific genre for too long, we begin to dislike our sound, our style and our music. Branching out to total opposite genres can inspire new sounds and techniques to apply to our own specific style of music.
One very useful way to give yourself a reason to pick up your instrument is a technique called “Looping”. Looping involves a computer software that replays a set number of bars so that you can layer sounds on top to create new music without having to leave your basement. To get into looping all you need is a simple mic and a basic looping software you can find anywhere online.
When you loop, you can build up a simple chord progression for a song. Once this structure is set you can do anything you want with it. The most common thing to do would be to improvise over top of it. Improvising allows you to play whatever note your heart desires. The best part about improvising with yourself and a machine is that you will never be wrong. Improvising is your mind exploring its own creativity and unlike your grade school art class, there are no wrong answers. To name an example, if you had a chord progression that lasted 8 bars, you could hold one note for those 8 bars just so you can hear how that one note sounds with the chords you layer out. This technique allows the mind to relate two pitches and to hear what is pleasing and displeasing.
Being a young musician today allows us to do what we want in terms of exploring creativity. We live in an arts world these days where we have platforms built for our own unique expressions of sound. The technology of our generation has given us a gift to explore our individuality. We just have to find something unique in ourselves and explore it. The only way to explore these sounds is to pick up your horn, and play.
Student/ Freelance musician, Patrick Godfrey, has found new audiences through YouTube by covering popular songs on the french horn. He currently studies at Wilfred Laurier University under the guidance of Nina Brickman.