Tips & Tricks: Four easy steps to playing sixteenth notes evenly

Have you ever been playing a piece with a lot of sixteenth notes and found that they were sounding uneven? I have a trick that will help you to even out your playing! I was introduced to this technique by my high school violin teacher and have used it ever since with great success!

Here are the 4 easy steps to playing sixteenth notes evenly using this sample passage:

1. Get your metronome. Your metronome is your friend when you are trying to solve rhythm and evenness issues. I usually slow the passage down while working on it, but if you already have the notes down, it may not be necessary.

2. Play the passage using the following rhythm:

3. Play the passage again using this second rhythm:

4. Play the passage as it was originally written.

You will find that once you have used the two altered rhythms (especially the second one) that playing the passage with straight sixteenth notes is much easier, that your rhythm is much more steady, and likely you will even be able to play it faster than before.

Why is that? Well, when you think about it, to play the dotted rhythms, you have had to move your fingers and your twice as fast as when you were playing the straight sixteenth notes, so by playing both the dotted rhythms, in a way you had to play the whole passage as thirty-second notes.

Likely, it will not be enough to play the passage once through each way and be able to play it perfectly once you are done. Spend some time on each step and make sure that you are playing all the notes in the correct rhythm and that your bow and left-hand fingers are coordinated. Depending on how long the passage is, it can be a challenge to maintain the rhythm in step three.

This is a tried and true technique that is one of the most useful in my toolbox. Let me know how it works out for you!

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Searching for a violist

Last year I had a fabulous string quartet.  The four of us played well together, we were starting to get a nice blended sound, and we enjoyed spending time together.  Sadly, my violist moved away, leaving me needed a four member to the quartet, and so the search began.

This is a challenge that occurs with all groups at some point!  A friend of mine recently was looking for a bass player for her rock band so we were going through the process of looking for a new musician at the same time.

I have to admit that as I get older, what I look for in a musician has changed!  Through the years I have played in many musical groups, with a wide range of people with varying personalities and skill levels.  I have played with fabulous musicians who were a real pain to work with, and I have played with less skilled musicians who were lovely!

So, what do I look for now?  The best of all worlds would be a great person that you like to spend time with who is an excellent musician.  These people do exist!  However, if I can’t find that person, here is what I look for in order of importance:

  1. Personality – Let’s face it.  You are going to spend hours of rehearsal with this person as well as hours in the car driving to gigs.  You really want to be able to enjoy all of that time!  The time you are on stage is only a brief portion of all the time you spend together!
  2. Reliability – I really want to know that my musicians are going to show up for rehearsal and most importantly for gigs!  I want to know that they will be there on time with everything that they need.
  3. Being a Team Player – I like working with people who are willing to give their opinions and will to take criticism.  I want the whole group to sound the best it can, so anyone who wants to showboat is not welcome!
  4. Musical ability – Yes…  This one is number four.  I used to put a lot more importance on it, but I have played with musicians who have improved drastically over the time we worked together.  Weak skills can be improved upon with work and time.

So, I am sure that you all want to know…  I found a fourth member for my quartet and my friend found a bass player for her band.  We both feel really good about our choices!  I hope that you all have as much luck finding musicians to play in your groups!

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Tips & Tricks: Playing in an Orchestra

This week we just started our orchestras at Park St. Elementary School.  It is very exciting for the kids because this is the chance for them to play in a group with different instruments.  This made me think of all the things that a person needs to know about playing in a group.  Here are six tips for playing in an orchestra.

1.  Learn your notes at home

When you are in a group, there is nothing that slows rehearsal more than having to wait for someone to learn their notes.  As my teachers were fond of saying, practicing (ie. learning your notes) is something you do at home, rehearsal (ie. fitting all the parts together and working on expression) is what you do with the group.

2.  Listen to the others around you

The most important thing is to listen to the people around you.  It is not enough to play the right notes at the right time.  I have described it to my students as being the difference between people playing music in the same room that just happens to fit together and people actually playing music together.  You can hear the difference!

3.  Listen to recordings of the music

This is actually just plain good advice.  If you are playing in an orchestral setting, it is important to become familiar with the music and to be able to pick up auditory cues as to when you need to play your part.

4.  Listen to the director/conductor

You need to listen to the director.  It is important to listen even if the director is not talking to you as often things that the director says to one group will carry over to others.  Also, this is a big time saver if the director does not have to repeat information to each group member individually.

5.  Check your ego at the door

Music is a lot like marriage:  It is more important to be together than to be right!  Even if you are technically playing the passage correctly, but the rest of the group is playing it a different way, don’t play louder to try to convince everyone to play your way, adjust and fit into the group.  I have seen this with notes, rhythms and tuning.  In the end, even if you are right, if you are the only one doing it, it will look like you are making a mistake.

6.  Don’t make excuses

This is a hard one, and I have seen many professional musicians fall into this trap.  If the director corrects you or tells you that a note is incorrect, don’t make excuses for why you played it that way, just mark your part and try to fix the problem.  If there is a mistake in your printed music (which can happen), just check to make sure that you now have the correct notes, and move on.  The director is not making a judgment against you (we tend to take it too personally when we are corrected) he/she is just trying to make the group sound as good as possible!

I hope these tips help!  Have a great time playing in a group.  It is one of the great joys in music!

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas music is incredibly polarizing. Where do you stand? Do you love it? Do you hate it? The other day on twitter, Jian Ghomeshi tweeted that we should not be playing Christmas music until December. This led to a barrage of tweets and retweets about the topic with, by the sounds of it, most people agreeing with him.

I happen to love Christmas, and I love the music that comes with it, which is really good since I teach violin/fiddle lessons and will be hearing Silent Night many times between now and December 25th. My students are always excited about learning Christmas music because these songs are familiar to them. These are tunes that they have heard every year for their whole lives.

The only restriction that I put on working on Christmas music is that I chose not to teach it until after Halloween. This seems like a good balance for not working on it for four months, but still having long enough that my students can play the music well by the Christmas recital.

I do understand though the frustration with having Christmas music played in the malls as soon as Halloween is over. I fully agree with the idea of generally not having Christmas music playing until December 1st. There are always exceptions to every rule, but I think that the stores and malls could wait until December 1st anyway, if for no other reason than the sanity of the people who work there! I will personally continue to enjoy all of my students playing their Christmas music from now until the recital!

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