As the new season has taken off, I’m so excited to what we’re about to experience in the coming weeks and months ahead! And I hope you have great plans too.
With so much going on at the same time, we oftentimes feel at a loss as to what to focus on particularly. I have A LOT to work on right now, and from time to time through the process I just find myself drown in “a flood” of discoveries and possibilities and simply overwhelmed by them too.
And yes, it’s honestly hard to balance everything － Is anyone here wanting to find ideas for fantastic Halloween costumes or sweets, keep in shape at fitness club, meet old/new friends and make them all work while simultaneously doing numerous musical projects?? － all of these things go hand in hand of course, and here’s a bad news to you: unless you have a long-term VISION for your life that lets you know what things should be prioritized at this point and laser-focus on that thing in order to get where you want to be you’ll never really amout to anything in life. It’s just the way it is. I don’t know what your vision is or if you even have one at all, but whatever it is don’t you forget this timeless principle.
I digress. Onward. >>>>>>
As musicians there’re all kinds of techniques and skills to be acquired in various scenes. Different instruments require different techniques and different settings call for different adjustments or finesses.
Is tone production important? Yes.
Are scales and arpeggios important? Yes.
Is breathing practice important? Hell yes.
Every one of these things helps, but none come close to “Sight-Reading”, which is the hottest, most sought-after skill and yet incredibly overlooked in the musical arena of 2018.
Why is this the #1 skill for music?
In reality, the majority of the musicians － the average musicians － will likely end up settling in orchestras (professional) some point of their career.
Exhilarating and worthwhile as it can be to them, they also critically suffer from the pressure ridden by every new repertoire that comes in which is largely a pile of rather wearisome and high-risk passages, especially for those who are under-experienced.
I predict that this state won’t change at least for the next 20 years, for their main strategy is to produce high quantity of high-quality musics to the marketplace, and there’s been some strong competition going amongst the orchestras. So the members of the orchestras are inevitably compelled to learn and master a piece in a short-term (usually up to a couple of rehearsals maximum) on a regular-basis (i.e. weekly).
(During my London days I’ve watched many of the rehearsals and concerts of the London Symphony Orchestra, arguably one of the most preeminent orchestras of the world, and their schedule is surdine-tight, FYI.)
To learn a piece properly it takes more than one week, and the truth is, most musicians are prone to begin the process way behind the point at which they should have already begun when the time limit isn’t practially so far off, and they often end up leaving everything to the last minute which either turn out to be made or disastrous.
So undoubtedly the key is to start preparation EARLY with plenty of time. And this is one way to go. It’s a realistic approach that makes a lot of sense.
There is the second way which is equally effective for improving your sight-reading skill that I want to highly recommend you.
One day not too long ago during a rehearsal of the Orchestra dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan, David Coleman came to direct ballet concerts and we were playing Tschaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty as far as I remember (if you don’t know him, he’s an experienced theatre-director around Europe and is a very trustworthy man.)
Like I said above, most don’t read or prepare music well beforehand (although a very few can be actually good at the first sight) and the inability to deal with the notes clearly got in the way of our advances in rehearsal much to his disappointment.
He spoke to the entire orchestra rather bewilderedly, though only in a subdued voice, making one specific suggestion that everyone should introduce a habit of reading at least one new music (any kind) daily.
What this does is that you will make a conscious effort to expose yourself to unknown music in the beginning, and over time as you consistently repeat the process you will be learning a new piece faster and faster with more accuracy and less effort.
The point is not to spend hours on it, but instead to do a little by little each day like 15 mintes and slowly build a momentum while making small achievements.
You’ll never have to be in trouble whatever new music comes your way because by that time you’ll have built for yourself your own habit and formula of how to learn new music quickly.
And here’s a BONUS tip from me if you’re someone who loathes mediocrity and firmly believes in that “good” is the enemy of the “best”:
please, by all means, get yourself a full score of the music you’re studying.
I know that a lot of people listen to the recordings out there which is useful and a right thing to do most of the time, but as I’ll try to talk about more intensively later on, the process of learning does not only depend on auditory function (this would go into more scientific discussion) although I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of “listening”.
You must have the requisite understanding of structures and general principles of music (counterpoints, sonata form, harmony etc.) and be able to grasp the texture of it as a collective (which instrument has the melody, the obligato, the secondary line or the accompaniment?).
Will dive deeper on all this in the future.