Do you live on the edge in your practice?

Uncategorized Jan 25, 2023

Biting off chunks too large to chew is one of the most common practice problems I see my students make.

One of the best ways to prevent this is by cultivating the skill of identifying where your musical edges are. What is a musical edge?

Simply put, it's that grey area right between the idea you can execute clearly and the idea you can't. And only 2 things get in the way of that execution - physical technique (actual physical training) or hearing the idea clearly (ear training).

Most students don't slow down a motion enough to effectively train their body with clarity and precision

The best way to practice at the edge is to break down any issue with the principle of simplification. An effective example at the phrasing level is to “chunk down” the piece you are working on so that you can effectively identify the trouble spots.

Other examples of simplification look like this: put down your bow and play pizz :: drill one phrase/measure (2 notes if you need to!) at a...

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Deep Listening

Uncategorized Jan 24, 2023

Would you learn a language without listening to it? This is a crucial aspect of learning musical styles, and should be part of your regular practice regime.

Most people only intentionally listen the second way

Structure in listening time for all three this week!

1 - Passive - Music plays in the background. The listener pays no attention and sound is registered subconsciously (ex. while chatting with a friend, cleaning, working, etc)

  • Assignment - pick a piece of music you want to learn or are learning (for free improv pick something in the style you desire to play) and play it in the background while doing something like chatting with friends, reading, writing, or cooking.

2 - Active - Music plays in foreground. The listener is participating in the experience consciously and is able to reflect on the qualities and attributes of the music and style (stay left brained - no analyzing)

  • Assignment - take the same piece of music and listen actively while enjoying it. Just...
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Practice with intention!

Uncategorized Jan 24, 2023

There are SO many layers to this...but becoming a good musician has a lot to do with being a good student. I like to ask myself: what do I want to learn? Is it something small like a lick or embellishment, or something major like a new style? What do you intend to learn, and how do you best break that into bite sized pieces?


1) Set time aside to practice but think of it as time for YOU. I've been able to rely on my instrument as a dear companion during some of the most challenging and important moments of my life. I've never regretted cultivating that relationship. It's great if you can be consistent, but with a shifting schedule you may need to be creative. I like to schedule my practice time at the beginning of the week when I'm setting intentions and goals for the week.

2) Structuring your practice doesn't have to be a burden or take a lot of time. Whether you do this or not is really due to practice habits. If you just pick up and play without ever stopping yourself...

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Fingerboard charts - a basic orientation

Uncategorized Feb 04, 2022

Get your free fingerboard charts in A!

Keys to visualizing the fingerboard

Unfortunately, often fingerboard charts are too complex, and therefore underutilized. If we simply break down the information into bite sized pieces the tool then becomes useful.

Seeing all the cello half steps hurts the eyes. But limit the chart to Bb major in 1st position and much more meaning is revealed

Fingerboard charts have the potential to be a versatile tool for learning.

As we will see, we may represent fingerings, note names, or scale degrees, and by comparing these gather a more complete view of musical systems as a whole. For example, we can see the low octave of G Major on the violin represented graphically with fingerings in 1st position:


Alternately, we could map the note names. We can orient to the key by being aware of what fingers (or open strings!) are on the tonic, or home note, of the scale:


and lastly, scale degrees (numbering the scale). This...

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What the heck is a MODE anyways!?

beginners theory Mar 07, 2021

What the heck is a MODE, anyways!?

We will try to keep it simple.

If I have a major scale, for instance, C Major, that scale has a key signature, which tells us how many flats and sharps to play. C has no sharps or flats, so it's easy to talk about, and also to see on a piano. Just imagine playing the white keys and only the white keys.

Now, to play C Major we need the note C to be the 'home note', or tonic. That's the note that feels like home when we resolve to it.

But it's possible to play all the same notes, as if we are in C, but instead of C feeling like home a different note feels like home.

So if we aren't playing any sharps or flats, but the note G feels like home, then we are playing a mode, or variation of a major scale.

In other words, we are playing the same notes but in a different order.

Imagine starting the alphabet at M, and when you get to Z you start immediately back at A, and finish up at L. It's a variation of the Alphabet - it has all the...

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The major scale structure

beginners theory Mar 07, 2021

We play major scales all the time, but instead of just reading and playing the notes we've learned it's helpful to understand HOW the major scale is constructed.

We need to start by knowing that a half-step is the smallest written interval in western music, and that two half steps added together results in a whole step.

If you want a visual picture of this on a piano, check this out

The pattern of a Major scale is as follows: Whole-Whole-half-Whole-Whole-Whole-half. (WWhWWWh) The following example is in G Major

Seeing this on a piano is one thing, but what about on the violin?

If we look at the pattern of Whole and 1/2 steps on the fingerboard in G Major we see this shape:


You can see the larger gaps between fingers one-two and three-four, as well as between the nut (top of the string) and first finger. These are whole steps. Notice, hear, and FEEL the half-step between 2nd and 3rd fingers.


Likewise, if we are in a different key, for example, A Major, then...

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Glossary of Musical Terms

Uncategorized Mar 07, 2021

Please enjoy this glossary of musical terms

This will be updated and expanded regularly!

Tonic - the "home note" of a key. For example, the tonic of G major is G. The tonic of G minor is also G.

Dominant - The 5th note of a Major or Minor scale, as well as the major chord built on that note. 

Leading Tone - The seventh note of a major scale, which is one half step below the tonic. In G major the leading tone is F#. In G natural minor there is no F# in the key signature (2 flats), so the F natural is raised to an F# in order to create the tension of a leading tone.

Scale Degree - Each note of a major scale can be assigned a number, counting up from the tonic (which is 1). For example, in the key of G the note B would be the 3rd scale degree, or note in the scale. Every scale degree has a unique name, but numbers are simpler and work just as well.

Nashville Numbers - Numbered chords as they relate to the home key. Just the same way we can number the scale...

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This essential step is the place to start

I've often been asked what the first steps are to being able to improvise. Aside from the necessary adjustments in mindset, which cannot be ignored, one of the first exercises is to number the major scale.

This is a simple process which builds awareness of relationship within any musical scale, and needs to be distinct from naming the scale degrees like TONIC and DOMINANT.

Start with any ascending scale you are comfortable with. Then play the first note: 1

Second note: 2

Third note: 3

We can look at C major as an example. Written out it would look like this:

Even if you are already a trained musician it's best not to underestimate the importance of this. And let's be clear - this exercise is DIFFERENT than naming the scale degrees (ie. tonic, sub-dominant, mediant, etc.), which begins to assign FUNCTION to the notes.

If we do this initially to build a sense of relationship and spacing, and don't concern ourselves with FUNCTION just yet, then we are opening a doorway between the ...

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Not knowing this album is like never having heard Beethoven's 5th

Remember back in April of 1800 when
Beethoven premiered his first symphony?
I don't either, but I've heard it was CRAZY.
He started on a dominant chord.
And it wan't even the V of the key?!
I know this is funny to think about now but shaking conventions up is sometimes a sign of creative genius, and that's exactly what Miles Davis was doing when he departed from his sound and style at the time and produced an album centered around modal tonality, Kind of Blue.
This album is really palatable, even to people who aren't into jazz. It's one of the jazz albums I could listen to front to back anytime, and a good litmus for you if you aren't sure whether you want to play jazz or not.
Even if you never listen to or play jazz, this album has an important place in the history of western music, so you need to know it. You will be filling one of the holes left by a strictly classical education.
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