Weekly lessons are a major part of music education, and no one would argue the importance of one-on-one attention. However, it is often the case that once a student leaves their university, lessons tend to occur less regularly. For many recent grads there are lots of available reasons to avoid lessons: their schedules are too full, lessons are expensive, they are burnt out this kind of instruction, or maybe they feel they no longer need it. Although some of these can be legitimate concerns, the value of individual instruction and coaching is great enough that it should be made a priority.
Throughout the professional athletic world, coaching is an integral part to the highest levels of success, and the world of professional tennis is a prime example. In this article, Diane Pucin discusses some of the relationships between top players and coaches. There is no need to mention all the accolades Serena Williams has earned in her storied career, and when talking about her work with coach Patrick Mouratoglou she said this:
"No matter what, no matter what stage you're at, you can get better, and you can't always do that yourself. You need another set of eyes, another voice.”
As a musician at any level, this is what you get from one-on-one coaching. It’s not just about getting advice on technique or assigning materials to work on. It’s about getting a knowledgeable outside perspective on all aspects of your playing. Sometimes, no matter how skilled you are at self-analysis, have another set of ears can shed some light on things you never noticed.
Even if you don’t have the ability or desire to get a lesson (or coaching session if you prefer to call it) from a well-known teacher or performer, find someone you trust and set one up. If you are You can leave it up to whoever is listening, or you can ask them to focus on specifics, such as rhythm, tone, musicality, or style. Perhaps most importantly, you have to keep an open mind on the feedback you receive from your musical coach, and it is very helpful to record your session to listen to/watch later.
Listening to music can take many forms. I enjoy having music on in the background while cleaning the house, washing the car, working on my bike, and many other everyday activities. Often I have symphonies pumping into my ear, or solo recordings, but often it’s non-classical music as well. As enjoyable as this kind of listening can be, no matter the content, there is another type of listening that we should be engaging in as musicians: active listening.
Active listening takes place when you are completely engaged with the music you are listening to, giving it your full attention and noticing as many intricacies and details as possible within the music.
As an example, I enjoyed this recording of Mahler 7, with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while relaxing in my living room one evening last week. For much of the last movement I listened with my eyes closed, experiencing the subtle artistic nuance with which this orchestra performed this amazing piece of music. I heard the slight differences in accents depending on where in the measure they fell, the dedication to sustaining every last note of a slur, the passing of melody from section to section and player to player. All of which would have been lost on me if I was also trying to answer emails or wash dishes at the same time.
In order to create music at a high level, we have to have the ability to create in our minds our desired sound. This ability comes from our own experiences making music, but can also come from listening to great performers, drawing inspiration and musical ideas from their artistry. Some of the best performers I know spend a lot of time and find a lot of enjoyment actively listening to great music. Rather they are intentionally drawing inspiration and musical ideas from this activity or not, I am sure their own musical performance is enhanced through this activity.
Pick one of your favorite pieces of music, or one movement, or just five minutes, and plan an active listening session this week. Find a time when you won’t be interrupted and use the highest quality listening system you have access to, such as full-size speakers or good quality headphones (ideally not earbuds). Listen for whatever you want: details of articulation, phrasing, accents and emphasis, or slight changes in tone color. Afterwards, reflect on what you heard and think about places in your own music where you can apply this level of artistry. This experiment might just change the way you listen to great music.
WELCOME TO THE BALANCING ACT BLOG
I will be sharing new ideas and great information on lots of different topics every week. If you like the content, click the button below to find out more about this project and sign up to receive new weekly releases. You can click the link below
Please leave comments below if you would like to contribute to our conversation.