music performance tips

  • Performance Advice | No One Can Be a Better You

    As an artist or performer it can be difficult to put yourself out there. There are so many talented artists and the Internet has millions of people who aren’t too shy when it comes to sharing their opinions on any material that ends up online. You can try to shield yourself by blocking comment features on your YouTube channels and social sites, but without feedback, it’s hard to gauge where you’re at (plus you can’t block comments on material that others post).

    Comments can be one of the best ways to learn how to grow and improve if they are positive and honest, but they can also become an easy venue for discouragement and hurt.

    When it comes down to it, you are unique and no one will ever be able to do what you do the way that you do it. If you are getting something out of the way you perform music, it doesn’t matter whether or not other people like what you are doing (as long as you aren’t hurting anyone with what you’re doing). Music is an art and art is intended to be a means of self-expression, so keep that in mind! Share what you’re doing, find your voice on your instrument and within the music community and if you are coming from an honest place (that of doing what you really and truly love), then positive feedback will come.

    It’s easy to get sucked into worry about whether other people may or may not like your music, but you have to remember to create music for yourself first. Worry about what everyone else thinks later. If you are creating music that you don’t like because you are trying to appeal to a wider audience, it will show, so be sure to do something you are passionate about.

    No matter how hard you may try, you can’t please everyone and there will be people who don’t like what you’re doing. And it isn’t worth the energy and misery that comes with trying to make everyone happy. If you’re going to spend the time and open yourself up to criticism, make sure you spend it doing something that is worth the effort. Understand that you can’t make everyone happy and that you need to learn to get past that – especially if you take on a public position like that of a performer.

    If you’re looking for some great tips on how to get past any insecurities regarding your ability as a performer, here are some of our suggestions [1]:

    1. Be brave enough to ask for things – you never know who might say yes. Showing initiative can go a long way.
    2. Perfect is impossible – think of what you create as a “snapshot” of where you are at in your life. You can always do something better later on, but with that mentality, you’ll never accomplish anything. Do what you can now, but always seek to improve for the future.
    3. Laugh at your own expense – when you make a mistake, laugh about it and then move on. You’ll get it the next time, so don’t worry about it.
    4. Discover who you are and what you are passionate about and then figure out how your voice into that mix. Don’t try to become a copy of someone else.

    Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    September 22, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1559

  • Rhythm – Who Can You Blame?

    Rhythm… Some people have it and some people don’t, but why? Research suggests that your parents may be to blame, or thank, depending on which end of the spectrum you ended up.

    In an article published by the Associated Press, research revealing that babies develop rhythm when they are bounced. The same went for singing to a child – researchers found that babies have the ability to already recognize melodies when they only a few months old.

    Laurel Trainer was the first to study this relationship between movement and music using 16 seven month old infants to test her theories. Half of the infants in the study were bounced on beats two and four while the other half were bounced on beats one and three. The study found that the babies developed preferences for music with the patterns that they were bounced to.

    Further study also showed that babies did not pick up rhythm by merely watching someone else – they had to be moved.

    So what do you think? Do we develop our basic sense of rhythm and melody during our infancy?

    September 21, 2012 • Teen Jazz • Views: 1457

  • How to Get the Most Out of Your Music Lessons

    After studying music for several years, I have had the pleasure of being tutored by several talented musicians. In my opinion, it is important to study and learn from a variety of people [musicians and non-musicians alike]. By diversifying your education, you gain access to a multitude of information to learn, recreate, and make your own.

    Studying with those who don’t teach music can benefit you and your career as musician in a variety of ways. There are a number of fields that you can study to help develop other aspects of your persona as a performer such as meditation, dance, theater, speech, networking, marketing, sales, and comedy. Being a musician requires you to have a variety of skills, so, for example, it helps to explore different abilities you may need to possess.

    Sometimes, however, studying with multiple teachers can present difficulties. More often than not, each teacher has their own individual approach to teaching; I have had teachers who feel “their way” is the “only way” and I have had teachers who try to help their students find their own way. I have also had teachers who are still trying to find themselves and they try different things out on you to see if those methods work for them too. The most important thing is to consider whatever information a teacher passes onto you, reflect on it and then decide for yourself what is best for you.

    And don’t forget that no matter whom you study with, there is an opportunity to take something away. You can learn from ANYONE. Teachers can only give you the tools to do what you need to do. It is up to you to come away from your studies with whatever knowledge you can.

    Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

    September 19, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1712

  • 5 Easy Steps to Beginning Improvisation

    1. Learn the melody of a tune. Really learn it. Listen to recordings and be able to play the melody the way it was meant to be played. Be able to play the melody from memory.

    2. Make it your own. Develop your own interpretation of the melody – how you would like it to be played – without modifying the changes.

    3. Be able to create a bass line to the changes. If you need help, go back to your recordings and transcribe what the bass player is playing.

    4. Outline the chord changes. Use scales and patterns like 1235, 1353, 12345678, 1357, 7531, 13579, etc. Try variations and combinations from measure to measure to challenge yourself.

    5. Begin improvising. Start be improvising with the melody notes and the patterns you have practiced, then begin exploring other possibilities and ideas you would like to try. If you are still having trouble coming up with ideas for solos, listen to recordings of the songs you are learning and transcribe the solo that the performer plays.

    And when you’re ready to take it to the next level

    August 30, 2012 • Lessons • Views: 1356

  • Band Leader Versus Side Musician | Career Choices Part II

    In the last article, the difference between a local musician and a touring musician was established. In this post, I’d like to discuss the different responsibilities side musicians (or a “sideman”) have versus the role of a bandleader. Although a side musician and a bandleader have specific duties as part of any group, each play individually important roles in the make-up of an ensemble. In brief, however, a bandleader is in charge of the group in its entirety as well as the business side of music whereas a side musician is mostly responsible for him or herself in relation to the group.


    The bandleader often feels the most pressure out of any member of the group because they have the most responsibility and because the audience’s response relies not only on their own personal performance but that of each of the members of the band.

    A bandleader is usually (but not always) the one whose name appears in the band name (i.e. The Shannon Kennedy Quintet, or Night_Vision featuring Shannon Kennedy). They are the one who takes the initiative to book the gig and selects the members of the group. He or she also has the most business responsibilities which can include making the calls to make sure everyone is going to be there, dealing with the money, figuring out the gear that needs to be there and who is going to bring it, getting the music together for everyone, negotiating food, space, etc. for the band, CD sales, and marketing the group to book more or other gigs, etc. Some of these responsibilities may be handled by the band’s management, if there is some, but if not, it is the bandleader who takes care of each of the above tasks.

    The bandleader also has the greatest music responsibility because they have to lead the band and direct each tune, decide which songs to play for each performance in advance, who solos when, how long they solo, who sings or plays the melody, if guest performers are allowed, etc. Some of the specifics of the bandleader’s job can be confusing and/or overwhelming and so here are some of the more important and not so obvious things that are expected of a bandleader.

    On the business side, money is usually one of the most awkward aspects. As a bandleader, it is your job to negotiate money with the person who hired you and your group. Never sell yourself short. Make sure you have enough money to be able to do what they ask and that it’s worth the amount of preparation and performance time you’re putting in (a gig isn’t just the time you start playing until the time you end, there is preparation before and packing up after). Sometimes venues will request a certain number of musicians and will pay you accordingly. If they did not tell you how many musicians, make sure you hire a number that makes sense for the size of the venue/type of music you do and that you can pay them fairly.

    As a bandleader, it is also your responsibility to bring in an audience (this is also the venue’s responsibility). You have to market the gig and make sure people know that it is happening.

    In regards to the music itself, one of the not-so-obvious responsibilities of the bandleader, is that they are required to prepare the music and charts for the musicians in advance. Even if it is not mandatory, it is important to bring charts for everyone just in case. It is also your job to create a set list so that when the other musicians ask “what’s next?” you will know. You really have to be prepared for anything and everything.

    Another bandleader responsibility is to deliver all the details of a gig to the rest of the group, a small detail that many bandleaders overlook (or just forget to do). You need to make sure that everyone knows when the gig starts, when it ends, exactly where it is, who else will be there, how much it pays, what they need to bring, what they need to wear, etc. Any miscommunication will be the bandleader’s fault, and even if someone else screwed up, it reflects upon on the bandleader. Any mistake the band makes is a responsibility that the bandleader must take.

    Side Musicians

    The side musician can have a much easier time than the leader, but that is not reason for them not to approach their role responsibly and well-prepared. The side musician is pretty much only responsible for themselves, and if they can’t do that, then they are not ready to be a working musician. If you show up to a gig unprepared as a side musician, you will not be hired by that bandleader again in the future.

    The only business a side musician really has to deal with is figuring out money and such with the bandleader or any self-marketing they wish to do at the gig (i.e. networking, CDs, handing out business cards, etc.). This, however, has its own etiquette – be sure to check with bandleader regarding self-promotion because it may be considered rude to promote yourself at another musician’s gig.

    As far as music, a side musician needs to bring any music they are told to bring in addition to their fakebook/realbook. A side musician should be able to do everything that they tell the bandleader they can do and follow the directions dictated to them by the bandleader.

    In essence, the bandleader leads the ensemble and the side musician is there to be a part of the group and to make the bandleader look good (by making the bandleader look good, the side musician looks good). Becoming one or the other is primarily by opportunity. I recommend trying both to find which best fits your personality and interests – a leader or follower. However, it is more likely you will find yourself doing gigs both as a side musician and as a bandleader.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 2206

  • College Auditions Preparation for Saxophonists

    This is a guest post from James Barrera, saxophone instructor at Cal State University Long Beach.

    Having been involved with younger sax players for well over a decade now, (yes, a few grey hairs have shown up) I think one of the most confusing, and important thing in a high school age musician’s life are their college auditions.

    As soon as you make the decision about whether or not you may be interested in pursuing music at a university, begin your research. Unfortunately, there is not as much information exists about Music Schools as Law Schools, Medical Schools, or other areas of study that can be found in the US News and World Report College Guides. Begin your search with your local colleges and expand to out-of-state. Look on the web for audition requirements; most schools break down their requirements into three groups: those that require a classical audition, those that require both classical and jazz, and finally those that only require jazz. This may heavily influence your decision on what schools to apply to.

    You can be sure that schools that only want to hear classical will require you to study fundamentals of saxophone performance, and those who only want jazz will require you to focus on the study of improvisation and jazz style. The vast majority of schools will require a classical and jazz audition. Having sat in on many of these types of auditions let me tell you this, we can tell if it’s thrown together. Ah yes, I can see it now, the brand new copy of the Ferling etudes, the barely used Selmer C*, and the box of reeds still in the cellophane wrapper. If it’s a month before your audition and you are just beginning to think about the classical component… well it’s really late. The ideal candidate for college has put in a significant amount of time working on classical saxophone style. (Purity and evenness of tone, clarity of articulation, and rhythmic accuracy.) If you do have time, and you teacher is willing, choose pieces from your state honor band audition requirements, or solo/ensemble list. (See below) If time is short, don’t bother with a sonata or concerto; just go with the 48 Famous Studies by Ferling. These are the international standard for saxophonists and you will definitely be studying these in college.

    For the jazz portion you will most likely need to play a couple tunes, blues, various scales, as well as complete some kind of ear training test. Be sure to prepare all Major, Minor (Harmonic), Diminished, Whole Tone, and Chromatic scales. You should to be able to play them at a good clip, sixteenth notes at M.M.=60 would be ideal. When you improvise, make sure you’re improvising. Nobody wants to hear the solo you wrote down and memorized. You won’t fool anybody either, they’ll know if you can play changes or just transcribed a solo off somebody’s album. Have a friend play you chords and then outline them on your sax, and play the appropriate scale that goes with that chord. You may be asked to do this in an audition. Don’t always believe what is posted on schools audition requirements, they may just decide at the last second to ask you to play a scale or exercise not listed. Sometimes a teacher may give you a brief lesson to evaluate how you react to instruction.

    Think of two or three questions for the auditioners, it doesn’t matter what you ask, it will demonstrate your interest in attending their school. Finally of all the advice I could give you the most important is this; look like you know what you’re doing. Look and dress the part, shake peoples hand, look them in the eye, speak to them with confidence, in other words… Be a Pro!

    Suggested Saxophone Repertoire:

    • Scales and Studies for all Saxophones
    • Daily Studies for Saxophone, Trent Kynaston, Warner Brothers
    • Les Gammes Conjointes Et En Intervalles – J.M. Londeix – Henry Lemoine
    • 48 Famous Studies – W. Ferling – Southern

    Alto Saxophone

    • Concert and Contest Collection for Alto Saxophone – Ed. H. Voxman Rubank
    • Solos for the Alto Saxophone Player – Ed. Larry Teal – G. Schirmer
    • Sonata No. 3 – G.F. Handel/ arr Rasher – Chappell
    • Sonata – H. Eccles/arr. Rasher – Theodore Presser
    • Chanson et Passepied – Jeanine Rueff – Alphonse Leduc
    • Aria – Eugene Bozza – Leduc
    • Tableaux de Provence – Paule Maurice – Henry Lemoine
    • 15 Etudes for Saxophone and Piano – Charles Koechlin – Billaudot
    • Sonata – Bernhard Heiden – Associated Music Publishers
    • Sonata – Paul Creston – Shawnee
    • Concerto – Glazunov – Leduc

    Tenor Saxophone

    • Concert and Contest Collection for Tenor Saxophone – Ed. H. Voxman
    • Rubank Solos for the Tenor Saxophone Player – Ed. Larry Teal – D. Schirmer
    • Sonatina – William Schmidt – Western International Music
    • Suite Rococo – Gretry – Schott/Hal Leonard

    Baritone Saxophone

    Repertoire for Baritone Saxophone at the High School level is not extensive and what is available is of questionable quality. To be honest you would be better off playing a piece for Alto Saxophone, or a Bassoon or Cello transcription. I always recommend Ferling Etudes.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 3353

  • College Auditions and Applications for Musicians

    When senior year in high school rolls around, you usually have a good idea of what you want to do after school. Having already been through this process myself, I feel that it would be beneficial to share it with other people who may be going through the stress of the same process.

    The most important thing about college applications and auditions is that you should do everything as early and soon as possible.

    Submit your applications and audition materials the first possible day, the sooner you apply, the more likely there is to be money you can receive as a scholarship. It is the same with auditions. Sign up for the earliest auditions; schools usually hand out money as things happen, so there is more in the beginning than there is at the end. If you audition the last day, there is a 99% chance that there will not be any scholarship money left and maybe not even space in the program because they already filled all the slots.

    As far as preparation for the audition, auditions are in the spring, giving you plenty of time to prepare. Unless a student is auditioning at elite music schools, there is a lot of flexibility about what level a student entering a university should be at. No matter what level, however, students are required to know their major and minor scales the whole range of the instrument, etudes, and a solo piece from the standard solo repertoire. The auditions are usually classical auditions, however, more and more schools offer jazz auditions, or let you play one jazz tune with an Aebersold or tracks during your classical audition. At a jazz auditions, the students are asked to play their scales, blues in concert F, Bb or C, and another piece of their choice. Some schools also ask for rhythm changes.

    Each program is unique, and accepts only a limited number of students. Around the time of the auditions, schools post their audition requirements on their websites, and you should strictly adhere to their guidelines.

    Sometimes students worry about how long they have been playing their instrument, but as long as you work hard to prepare for your auditions, the colleges will usually take you into consideration and you should do fine. They look at your potential as much as they consider where you’re at ability-wise at the time of your audition.

    There are several things that you should take into consideration when looking for schools to apply to:

    1) Major: What do you want to study? Just music? Jazz? Classical? Composition? Look for schools with strong programs in what you wish to do.
    2) Location: Do you want to go far from home, or stay close?
    3) Cost: What can you afford? Some schools look to have a diversity of students economically and geographically and are willing to hand out scholarships accordingly.

    It also helps to do scholarship auditions, maintain a high GPA, and score well on your SATs and ACTs. It doesn’t hurt to take both of the tests. Also, diversify yourself – don’t just do music, participate in a wide variety of activities – this will help you a lot.

    Some really good music schools: Eastman School of Music, Boston School of Music, Berklee School of Music, USC.

    Each school is unique in which style of music they stress – some it is classical, big band, or small ensemble jazz. You should apply to the school that best fits what you are interested in. If you plan on becoming a music major, whether to teach or perform, you are going to be playing a lot. So, your schedule will be filled with music classes. To prevent going to school for more than four or five years, I recommend taking academic GE (general education) classes during the summer.

    If you do not want to be a music major, but want to continue studying music in college, a lot of schools do not require that you audition for the music program, but only the individual groups, whereas music majors are required to do both auditions. Music majors are also required to do recitals either every semester or year. If schools offer lessons, music majors study an hour a week, whereas non-music majors are only required to study half an hour every week.

    As a music major in your freshman and sophomore year, most of you classes will be theory, history, etc., and you don’t really start performance classes until your junior year with the exception of concert bands. If you do well at your auditions, however, they will make an exception and admit you into some of the other groups.

    I hope that this information has helped you with your college process, or has at least answered a few of your questions.

    If you have any further questions, I would be happy to answer them. As far as my college career, I recently graduated from Cal State University Long Beach as a Woodwind Performance major with a minor in Business: Marketing. I’ve also earned my Master’s Degree in Music (emphasis on ethnomusicology) from Queen’s University Belfast. I applied to USC, University of Miami, UCI, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, and Berklee School of Music. For my Master’s, I applied to Indiana, UCLA, UNT and QUB.

    August 30, 2012 • Lessons, Music and Career Advice • Views: 1854

  • Ensemble Playing Tips

    Some quick tips to help improve your ensemble playing:

    1. Tune without vibrato

    2. In music, especially classical, it is very important to have more “bottom” (bass instruments) to the sound, so make sure that the lower instruments are audible

    3. Listen to the other musicians in the ensemble and try to match dynamics, intonation, vibrato, phrasing, articulation, time and balance

    4. Listen to your principle players and play slightly softer than the person a chair over you

    5. If there are discrepancies interpreting the music, ask the conductor how to interpret that part of the music and play it the way they tell you. A good conductor will have done research on the piece you are performing and will know the proper way to interpret the music.

    6. When you are in a group with strings – you have to think about what a string player can and cannot do, then play with that in mind

    7. Get out of the way of the melody – that should be the loudest and most clear part of music

    8. Play light articulations to blend with the rest of the players.

    9. Find a recording of the piece you are playing and listen to it.

    10. And last, but most importantly – ensemble playing is about listening – so use your ears.

    August 30, 2012 • Lessons • Views: 1332

  • Music Festival Preparation

    Festivals offer a wide variety of resources to the young musician if they are willing to take advantage of what is available to them. The most obvious thing about festivals is the opportunity to network with all the other students who are performing. The hundreds of other kids walking around are great to make connections with and begin establishing yourself with other future musicians. It also provides you with other young musicians to listen to – to find out the different levels of musicianship and where you place with your peers as far as ability.

    If you’ve been watching the other groups, you already have an easy way to make introductions. Take a moment to note the positive things that stood out to you about various performers and take the time to introduce yourself and let them know what you appreciated about their performance.

    Most festivals also offer clinics which are usually very beneficial and I recommend taking advantage of these opportunities. You never know when you might run across someone who will inspire you, motivate you, or even help you.

    Another thing about festivals is that they give you more experience performing. It never hurts to get out on stage in front of people to play. The judges also can be very helpful because they tell you what you can improve on and what you do well. It helps you grow aware of areas you need to work on that you might not have known about before. If there are additional categories that you can participate in, be sure to enter (only if you’ll be prepared, of course).

    As far as preparing for a festival, it is important that you have good programming (good pieces of music) – you usually pick three pieces, one should be a ballad, and your set should be under 30 minutes.

    To prepare on an individual level – prepare your part of the music, and if you have a solo, work on the changes, or the written solo – whichever you play. When you do solo, play with confidence and with a full sound. Make sure your body language is also confident.

    To prepare with your group, make sure you rehearse your pieces regularly. Strive to have good intonation and to play together with good time and a good “pocket.” You will most likely do festivals with your school, but there are some out there that you can form your own groups and participate in. Festivals are a really great experience for the student musician particularly because they are designed as an educational experience for the students participating.

    August 30, 2012 • Lessons, Music and Career Advice • Views: 1545

  • Things Woodwind Players Should Know About Performing in a Musical

    As a multi-instrumentalist, I have had the opportunity to perform in several musicals such as “Singing in the Rain”, “42nd Street”, “Hairspray”, “Cabaret”, “Honk”, “West Side Story”, “Sideshow”, “Bye Bye Birdie”, among others. Because I am a Woodwind Player, my emphasis will be on woodwinds; I am not really in a place to describe the brass, string, or rhythm section books since I have not ever played out of them.

    As a reed player, if your goal is to perform as part of a pit orchestra, I have found that it is absolutely essential to be able to double. There is a set of standard doubles for each of the saxophones, and they go as I am about to list them. Musicals tend to have 2 or 3 reed books, alto and bari, alto and tenor, or tenor, alto and bari.

    Reed 1

    If you are an alto player, you typically play out of the Reed 1 book. Usual doubles are flute, clarinet, piccolo, and soprano saxophone. Sometimes you even have to play Eb clarinet. This book is usually the most difficult and demanding. It also has more clarinet and flute parts than any of the other books. There is very little, if any, saxophone in the book unless it is a more contemporary, jazzy musical such as Chicago. This book also has the most solos and exposed passages.

    Reed 2

    This is the tenor saxophone player’s book. This book requires doubling on clarinet, flute, oboe, English horn, and occasionally piccolo. This book is mostly clarinet and usually doubles, and has harmony to most of the Reed 1 book.

    Reed 3

    The baritone saxophone player usually gets to play this book. The doubles include baritone saxophone, bassoon, clarinet, bass clarinet, and rarely flute. When there is no Reed 3 book, the Reed 2 player usually has to play tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute.

    If you are looking to perform in musicals, but have not yet had the opportunity, I would suggest going to local shows and poking around backstage. You may run across an opportunity to audition for the next show. Usually musicians in the shows are regular, but are always looking for subs. It is tedious doing shows for long periods of time, so having a sub is always nice. If you are a student, you can always ask for lessons from the saxophonist in the pit so you are known, and if you get good enough, he/she could ask you to fill in for him a couple of shows.

    If you are in high school or college, schools do musicals almost every semester. Churches also do musicals, so check with your local church. These musicals are usually performed with a prerecorded CD as opposed to a live band. If you are willing to volunteer for a musical and do it for free, you can ask the director to rent the pit orchestra books and you can put together a group that meets the instrumentation. Even though you are doing it without pay, you have the opportunity to impress the director who may use you for outside stuff that will pay, or you get good experience for the future.

    One thing to know about musicals is the time that they require. The rehearsals are intense, and the performances never seem to end. By the end, even though you did not act in it, you know all the words to all the songs, and most of the dialogue in between. The only way you forget it is when the next musical rolls around and you have those new songs to get stuck in your head; you are no longer singing “All that Jazz” but “Oklahoma”. No matter what way you go about playing in a musical, it is a great experience and great practice on your doubles.

    August 30, 2012 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1712