So, we all have gear. Even if it's not the latest and the greatest in the eyes of others, it hopefully gets the job done. The thing we have to be careful of is judging or criticizing people for what they do or don't use and why they make those choices. Now, it's normal for a teacher to make suggestions to growing students, including ones in higher education, especially if they see a need for a change or an exploration of different materials. This of course is a welcomed, constructive advisement and great studios and classmates will be conscious and mindful enough to make these suggestions or state opinions without seeming to be pushy or intimidating, etc. But, of course, some people like to be right. We all have probably had that experience where someone older or technically "better" than us tried to make a suggestion as if they had all the answers, not as a constructive opinion to help us. That's what I'm talking about.
As we develop our technique, our ability to express ourselves grows and we begin to have ideas and preferences about what equipment will allow us to do that the best. You don't have to use equipment just because the majority of people use a certain product. Personally, I base whatever I use on categories of overall weight, distribution of that weight, and rebound response. So if a $10 mallet from a toy store meets all of those criteria and I decide to use it, I and anyone else should not feel judged if it is accomplishing what we need it to. I had one experience where I made my own tam tam beater out of an old farmer's rubber hammer and a sponge, and that's exactly what it looked like too. No yarn wrapping, no paint job, just a sponge on top of a hammer. Of course I got strange looks, but as soon as they heard the sound it produced they all wanted one. Instead of saying, "That's janky" or "You should use the professional beater" they respected my decision, were open to discussion about how and why I came up with it and were non-judgmental about it.
As far as suggestions go, in college, the entire studio "suggested" that I buy a certain drumstick because it was the "standard stick" and I refused because I was used to playing with Cooperman sticks, as it was my previous teacher who gave them to me. Finally I gave in and bought the sticks and found that I really liked them and soon realized how limiting the old pair was to what I wanted to do. Yes, I could still use them, but when it came to certain tasks the new sticks were easier to work with. Later, a teacher would see that I was using a certain timpani mallet that I had to work hard to make work for me and taught me what to look for in mallets that would make it easier to decide what would work and gave me a list of options. With this method I obviously caught on quickly and thanked him for his advisement and soon bought new mallets that helped me rather than hurt me.
We shouldn't judge people period, but we all can help people if the need is there. If you know someone is struggling because the equipment is not made "for them" we can always let people try out things that we own that they may be interested in. The key is to not be invasive or argumentative abut it. Remember, we all have a reason for what we use so respect everyone's choices, don't neglect or disrespect them. And if someone is using something you personally don't like, you should still respect their decision regardless of your personal feelings about it. This goes double for your life outside of music. Maybe even ask yourself why you have those negative feelings. Is it because they don't work for you personally, do you not like the manufacturer, is the production quality bad or you might've gotten a bad set, does someone you dislike use those things? You might find you actually love the equipment. So let's not put anyone down for what they choose to use. If there's a clear need for help be kind enough to offer people your equipment to test the waters instead of acting "holier than thou" or "teacher-esque" and saying they should use what you use. And be open to trying new things, even if what you use is perfect it doesn't mean you have to stop searching for more. In short, respect people's decisions, be open to conversing about those decisions, and kindly share with one another to help everyone grow.
The motivations for practicing vary. Obviously the main one is the desire to "get better," but narrowing down and defining what that "better" means is what determines our process towards that goal. For me, this is how I determine my daily practice for anything including auditions, performances and personal goals. I was thinking about this, and how we make special plans for special events like concerts and auditions, and wondered how that effects and informs our daily practice. There is definitely an increase of work and motivation when presented with an opportunity to perform in concerts, auditions and competitions, but the key to that is that there has to be something to increase from.
I think the mistake we make is that we, me included (and especially Americans in the current education system), are nurtured to only study for the test at the end, not for the process leading to the test. This becomes habitual and begins to infect other things we do in life. Saving only for specific items, seeking only one type of job to meet all needs, practicing more only for auditions or concerts, at least it effected me in this way. So, I had already been practicing for hours a day, working on technique and developing my musicality, but the motivations were simply to get better, get faster, get louder or softer, more reactive and more responsive. But, once I would get a notification of an audition, the motivation moved away from those things to playing the specific excerpts for the specific audition. This of course was necessary, you can't just practice soft doubles and ignore the music of Scheherazade, but you also can't play the music of Scheherazade and soft doubles at the same time, hoping those specific Scheherazade doubles are perfect enough to get through the first round.
My thought process is, if you have the technique down, the music is easy. Can't say what you want without the words. My hope, when preparing for auditions, is not to have to think about technique, which means the technique should already be there. I'm not working on doubles when I'm working on Scheherazade, or rolls when I'm working on Capriccio Espagnol, I'm just thinking about the music. So my daily practice is geared, as all of ours should be, to making our technique as automatic as possible so that the music can easily come out. So, when you have a cymbal part in a concert, you don't have to think about how loud you can or can't play, you already know from your daily practice. In a way, you're always preparing for the concert or audition because the technique is what will make it that much easier to execute anything you need or want to do. Then the special event isn't so "special" and you can approach it calmly and confidently. When I started exploiting my practice habits, because they were already nurtured in this way, and put this way of thinking with those habits, my practicing became more efficient and more intensive, and then my prep for events increased and streamlined even more. So, let's make sure we have something to build on, something that will make it easier for us in the long run, and not just put on the nice clothes for the interview. Let's get comfortable getting dressed up and better clothes might come our way.
It's really simple. You see the post in the union paper or the internet post, send your resume (with the option of having a reference vouch for you if denied), get the list, listen to the music, prepare the music with the trends, traditions and personal interpretation, and present it in mocks and at the audition itself in all rounds. So, what's the big deal? The fact is that this is all you can do, there's no hack to winning. There's only the preparation and the presentation. Yea, there are things that make it easier, but at the end of the day, all we can and have to do is perform our interpretations our way, as well as we can in that moment, and hope for the best. What I do to prepare is focus on the musical character as much as possible. Nothing we do should be taken out of the context of the music. If it's soft, it's in the context of that piece, not just as soft as humanly possible to sound impressive. Sure it is, but if it's not the piece, then it's not appealing. The key for me is that my daily practice is based on this principle. I'm always playing with music, or with a character in mind, so when I prepare audition excerpts it's nothing different.
Yes, you have to practice, you have to know the music, you have to practice playing in front of people, and if there is a method or system of doing that that works for you, go for it. Just know that even the most efficient ways of preparing cannot win the job. It certainly will help your chances and give you more comfort going into it, but winning is not guaranteed. As much as we can prepare, there's nothing we can do to know exactly what will happen and how. The best we can do is control what we can and be flexible with everything else. Personally, I have very specific things that I do within pieces, but depending on the hall, the order of pieces and the atmosphere of the moment, they may change. You can't rely on the systems or the hacks. You have to do what's in your control to do and adapt to the rest. This probably is not what you were expecting to read about auditions, but for me this way of thinking relieved the stress they would give me. That and the mental perceptions and principles that I discuss in other blogs. In a nut shell, prepare as much as you can, with as many variables as you can. If a certain system works for you then that's great, there's freedom on the other side of discipline. Just know and accept that they may change in the moment.
People usually tell me that this simplistic view is too good to be true, but in essence this is the way most if not all of the current professionals say that they prepared the music their way, and performed their way, unapologetically, adapting to circumstances and making changes as directed. This may or may not be the "norm" these days, but it definitely works for me and people I know. Again, we have to know the music inside and out, but that alone, and the systems that allow us to do that, does not guarantee "victory." Play the music for the sake of the music and that will take you far. It's like a great chess game. The great Bobby Fischer said that he could tell the difference between a player who just played strategies from a book, and a player who actually played for the art of the game. The panel will do and hear the exact same. Play you, not the system, and the music will come out beautifully.
My friend Andrea from Cleveland asked me my opinion of balancing daily life with practicing and I thought it would be good to post my thoughts here. It's often assumed that the amount of practicing we have to do is impossible to accomplish with our busy schedules. Personally, I've had the luxury of having a ton of "free time" to dispose of, but even when things got busy, especially in college, I still made it work. I think it's mainly changing our perception that makes finding practice time less stressful. As percussionists especially, all we do is more our bodies. So, even when we walk, we can practice. Just focusing our thoughts to our arms, hands, legs and feet we can take a 3 minute walk and turn it into a 3 minute practice session.
"Away from the instrument, there are tons of things to learn" - Jojo Mayer, and I completely agree. If you can't get to a rehearsal space there's always a drum pad. If you can't play at home, there's always YouTube, Pandora or Spotify, and when you know you can get to a rehearsal space, you can plan what things are most important. I know timpani time is extremely limited, but I own a timpani practice pad, so I can work on the technique at home so when I get to the rehearsal room I don't have to focus on it as much. I found these ways of thinking really opened up the possibilities of practicing for me and I find that I can practice anywhere, doing almost anything. It's not so much finding a balance between things in your life, but finding ways of incorporating multiple things in your life. When I spend time with my future fiance, I try not to physically practice because I want to dedicate that time to her, but being with her creates new emotional events that I can access in my performances. So in a way, it is practicing, without practicing. I don't have to choose between music and life, life is music. This is the way I think of it now, and perhaps this can help you create more opportunities to practice as well.
Josh Jones 10/16/2015
I love stick control, any stick control! From Stick Control and Accents and Rebounds to Superior Technique and Developing Dexterity, I just can't get enough permutations of common rhythms and stroke patterns. Most drummers out there at least know of or own the Stick Control book, but not everyone knows how to properly use it, or any book for that matter. I can honestly say that, in the beginning, my use for stick control was a lot different than it is now, and with the progression of use came a deeper understanding of how to develop and maintain technical proficiency. Hopefully this can help someone else find more opportunities within the exercises.
Number 1: The Exercise Itself
Obviously you have to play the exercise properly. The stickings, rhythm, required repetitions and any other information must be executed precisely with little to no extra effort or struggle. Once "mastered" at a certain level, tempo can be adjusted to either be faster or slower. Really seeing how slowly and smoothly you can perform the exercise will determine how well your body is accustomed to the movement itself. The faster tempos will show you how agile the body can be within the exercise's structure. You can only go so fast, but you can always get slower. Go for that more! Stick control is an excellent medium to work on your time within different rhythmic patterns. Take advantage of and exploit this as much as possible!
Number 2: Improvisation
Only after the exercise has been "mastered" can you move on to another one. While continued work on every exercise is encouraged, they can get boring to some people. So, improvising on the exercise can give it more "shelf life" and make things a lot more interesting. Jacques Delecluse's method book has very simple rhythms within his exercises, but he encouraged and even wrote in specific improvisations, mainly using dynamics. So, instead of just practicing the same exericse at the same volume, you can use all dynamic levels, crescendos and decrescendos, and even subito dynamics to get more variation. Depending on the exercise, adding embellishments and accents can also make it more interesting to work on. Basically, you want to be extremely creative, figuring out what you can and can't do with that exercise. The more variations created, the more technique gained.
Number 3: Feel and Sound
So, within both of these we have two key elements: the physical feel, and the sound we create. Usually, the sound will influence the feel, but for a while, in my case, the feel influenced the sound. If that's like you then you probably have a great sense of feel but not so great variety if sound, at least at some point. In which case, really experiment to see what different feels sound like and just don't always go for the most comfortable feel. As for the ones whose sound influences the feel, really memorize how those sounds feel and see how many varieties and combinations of sound ideas create similar yet different feels. Be sure that the movements are effortless, not over tensed and over worked, and that the sound isn't crass and is very clear, unless otherwise intended. Stick control is just as much about developing your ear as well as your hands.
Doug Waddell always told me, "I don't care which stick control you do, just make sure you do it everyday." This is definitely one of those things you do not want to just skip out on. Honestly, for most of my college days, that's all I would do, literally for hours on end. Just stick control and scales. If you can get that technique in tip top shape, everything else is a piece of cake. The more vocabulary the more ways you can express yourself. The more fluent in that vocabulary the easier it is to say what you want. So no matter what book you use, or warm up exercise, be sure to do it everyday and to really focus while you are doing it. The last thing we want is to be going through the motions with stick control, or else it won't fulfill its function of helping you get better. Experiment, set goals, mix and match, try new things, and be adventurous. You'll be surprised at how many things you can accomplish with this mindset.