Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Practice Techniques -- The Skeleton

This is the first in a series of posts I'm writing about technical practice methods.

There are many well-known practice methods out there for learning music. However, in my teaching and in my own practice, I've found that there are few that are effective in addressing issues that come up in the advanced stage of technique.

The issues I refer to are those that come up after the notes are learned: in particular, getting difficult passages up to tempo and maintaining consistent flawless execution.

I have found three techniques that are especially helpful for consistency and tempo.

These are:

The Skeleton, The Burst, and The Pyramid

The Skeleton

The term, "skeleton" or "skeletonization" refers to a method in which the structure or "bones" of a passage are isolated and then integrated to give an evenness, a flow and a sense of purpose to a passage.

I learned about this technique from our former Second Bassoonist, Billy Hestand. Billy was first exposed to it in the Performance Techniques Class he took at the Manhattan School of Music with Dr. Carol Aicher. She was kind enough to share her ideas with me in preparation for this post.

In this series I'll use the Marriage of Figaro Overture as an example.

Most of us find this one of the most challenging excerpts there is.

A lot of bassoonists have trouble getting this one up to tempo while maintaining control of every note. Acquiring consistency in execution time after time is also difficult.

This method is very simple to understand and apply. In its most basic form it involves playing the beat notes in a passage while removing notes in between beats.

A. Stage One

1. Play through with just the downbeat notes. Tongue each note. Go slow at first if you need to and make your eye focus on each downbeat note while skipping over the notes in the parentheses.

2. Keeping the tempo slow, play again, tonguing just the downbeat notes, but try to hear or sing to yourself the rest of the notes WHILE PLAYING. Make a nice phrase and try to use your airstream much as you would when playing everything.

3. Move up the tempo. Keep your eyes on the "skeleton notes".

4. When you can do this comfortably, go on to the next stage.

Stage 2

 Repeat the method outlined above for this Stage.

Stage 3

Now play "The Real Thing" up to tempo!  I think you'll be impressed with how fluid and easy your fingers feel!

The Skeleton Method works well for excerpts like Beethoven 4th, Ravel Piano Concerto 3rd movement, but can be used for any technical passage.

Another technique related to this method involves simply clapping the rhythm of a passage before playing it. Wind players can also add "saying" the articulations without the instrument or using just the reed. If you can't say it, you can't play it!!

Here's a good example of a passage I'd clap out or try saying to a beat before playing it. It's from Jeff Rathbun's new "Rocky River Music" -- a work for Wind Octet that we're playing in Chagrin Falls this Friday evening.

Try clapping through this one. Dotted quarter note beat, 6/8 time, dotted quarter = 92

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