Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cold Time

The Dixie group is playing tomorrow evening as part of the Music on Main Street in Orange, and we rehearsed this afternoon. I'm getting over this nasty viral cold that's been going around, and while playing this afternoon I flashed on another reason having a cold might help one's playing. 

Earlier I mentioned it might make one more physically sensitive and less likely to over-think. Another part of it is my time sense is subtly altered. We played things with faster tempi, but I felt I had all the time in world to vary banjo strums, both to make some more arpeggio like and to make more subtle syncopations.

I have the feeling if I could cultivate this expanded sense of time, my playing would be remarkably better. It may just be that feeling so miserable, I'm not as hyper about being "right" in my playing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Guitar Action Trick

My black Alvarez guitar, which was my work guitar in San Antonio, had been in its case for over ten years until I got it out recently. When I restrung it, the A string buzzed a little bit on the first fret, but no others. I've always avoided sanding down frets, because there's no going back. So what I did was snip a short section of the unwound end of the A string and put it in the groove in the nut, under the A string, raising it just enough that it doesn't buzz on the first fret anymore. If there's a difference in the sound, I can't hear it.


The precipitating factor for the recent posts on music as massage was the presence of a harp at the Christmas concert of the community band and choir. Ms. Maestro is Anne Michaud, an accomplished harpist who also played with the Pittsburgh Symphony. She was the accompaniment for one of the choral numbers, and I got to sit directly behind her on the next tier up, with my music stand sitting down on her tier, so I couldn't have really been any closer.

As she played, I both heard the sound and felt the vibrations in my torso. I can't remember a more pleasing musical sensation.

Another thing that struck me was that Ms. Michaud has the compact build and physical manner of a gymnast. She brings a lot of physical energy to bear on the instrument, and has great enthusiasm in doing so. One of the ideas informing the learning materials is that music is, a least in part, simply physical gesture made audible. Ms. Michaud playing the harp wonderfully demonstrates the interplay of physical gesture and musical forms.

Flute, Alto Flute & Horn

To give the Friday group more treble voices, I started playing the (soprano) flute, which I had never really worked with before, other than as a solo instrument to take a break from piano back in conservatory days. I've had real trouble with intonation halfway up the second octave and on up. Running through things with Andy on cello fooled me into thinking I was OK, but I now realize he must have been compensating for my sharpness high up.

So I got out the alto flute, which I played for a number of years, and discovered there were intonation problems there as well. I adjusted the cork in the head joint on both and that helped a lot. But the real culprit has been the horn. With both flutes and the horn, moving the lower jaw has a lot to do with playing in tune. The problem is that the jaw movements needed for each instrument on each note are different, sometimes subtly and sometimes more obviously. 

Once all that became apparent, things have improved. Playing multiple instruments is a real joy, because each has it's very own way of making music. But there's a price to pay if you don't completely "change channels" when going from one to the other.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Close Up Music

The more I think about the response the Kenwood Players got at the Gordon House, the more I think it has to do with the audience being so physically close to the instruments. If you click on "medicine" in the tag index, there are a couple of posts linking to news stories from Britain talking about how people in hospital who hear live music regularly leave the hospital sooner and require fewer meds than those who don't have the music.

Part of the effect probably has to do with the performer being able to tweak the music to suit the individual patient, increasing the connection between player and listener. After the Gordon House session, my intuition suggests hearing live music up close also exposes you to deeper and more subtle timbres than you'd get sitting out in a concert hall. So on a physical level it's sort of like a massage. And on an feeling/emotional level, that increased connection between player and listener is probably an intensifier of the experience.

We're set to do some hymns over at Oak Chapel 1/4/09, and I'll try to pay attention to this. The problem is that leading sing alongs, I've got everything memorized and can focus on the clients. Playing the alto flute with the players requires full concentration on the music and the music making, so it's harder to observe the response.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I've never been a big fan of modulations. Rather than seeming to grow from the music itself, they more often feel like cheap tricks by the composer to maintain the listener's attention. This is especially true (to my ear) of the repertoire for concert band. I'd rather the music stay in the same key and use rhythmic and melodic variation, along with same key harmonic variation. I usually like music to create and nurture a mood, or an alpha wave type trance, and modulation tends to alter the mood.

Working with the trumpet on the Christmas carols made me aware of a good reason for modulation. The trumpet has a very limited useable range, restricting the available keys for various tunes, depending on where the notes fall on the scale. If you were to arrange a piece for various instruments, when you come to a trumpet solo you might want to modulate to a key suitable for that melody in that key.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Kenwood Players I

On Friday we had the inaugural performance of the Kenwood Players over at the Gordon House, an assisted living facility. Bill and Crawford on Eb tubas, Maggie and Dick on clarinet and trumpet, Steve on trombone, and me alternating horn and flute. We played Christmas carols in four voice arrangements based on the old Episcopal Hymnal.

The room was small and there were, at most, twenty residents in the audience. One of the things I kept noticing was how the audience seemed deeply affected by the music. It was nothing like leading a sing along, and, of course, Christmas music is especially appealing. But I was reminded of the studies that live music benefits health. With all the timbres we created in that small room, so close to the audience, you could make a case it was as much subtle body work as it was music.

I hadn't worked with a population like that for years, and never with such a fine group of musicians helping me. It made me realize how I've always presented music therapy performances differently than straight up musical performances. I naturally did as much as I could to break down the barrier between performers and audience, and at the end of the session, a nice little social mingle naturally bubbled up.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dream Trio

Flute, alto flute and 'cello make a wonderful trio. Some years back I covered the alto flute while Susan and Andy played wonderfully on flute and 'cello. Susan moved away, so we no longer get together, so it's only in retrospect I realize just what a great match-up we had going. 

Working with the band instruments has meant learning that where instruments are in their ranges has a lot to do with how the mix comes out. The thing about the flute, alto flute and 'cello is that they each have at least a full two octave and a half range. More importantly, there's not the large variance in timbre and projection over the course of their ranges. That meant that as long as we listened to one another, a nice blend could be achieved. With the band instruments, some combinations of instruments and voices just don't work.

Cold Sensitivity

Back in conservatory I was a piano major and Mr. Henry Black was my teacher. One day, and one day only(!), he marveled at my playing, asking all kinds of questions, trying to find out why my playing was so much better than usual. I had a very bad cold.

Yesterday doing body work, while having a cold, I had the same sort of feeling of greater sensitivity. It may be that having a cold affects the brain's processing of things. Playing an instrument and doing body work are sort of similar activities, and the cold may attenuate the "thinking" component of the thinking, feeling, intuiting, sensing Jungian mix. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Trombone in D minor

The Dixieland group I play in will be doing two sets in the Baptist church for the Music on Main Street event New Year's Eve. They've been letting me do a sing along version of Just A Closer Walk With Thee and now we're going to try to add a sing along version of Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho. The very simple arrangement I worked up just gives the melodic and harmonic outlines as a basis for improvisation, and is based on the version I did for the Ten Traditional Songs section of the music learning materials. 

In the learning materials Joshua is in C minor, but for this I brought it up a step to D minor because it suits my voice better, and I lead the singing without a microphone. Steve, who plays professional level trombone in the group, mentioned that the melody "lays" well on the trombone in that key, just as it does in the other D minor number we sometimes do, The St. James Infirmary. I took him to mean that D minor is, in general, a good key for the trombone.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mind Practice

This post over on Horn Notes quotes from a book called The Mind Gym by Gary Mack. It ties in neatly with some of the things Daniel Levitin covers in his first book, This Is Your Brain On Music.
One interesting study involved college basketball players. For three months, one group shot free throws for one hour each day. Another group spent an hour each day thinking about shooting free throws. The third group shot baskets thirty minutes a day and spent thirty minutes visualizing the ball going through the hoop from the foul line. Which group, at the end of the study, do you think improved its free-throw shooting the most? The third group did. The imagery had as much impact on accuracy as shooting baskets.
Blogger and horn teacher Ericson follows this by talking about visualizing the situation of the performance as well as how to play the music. 

Whenever I perform I want to be there way ahead of time to get used to the space, hoping to minimize any surprises during the performance. Differing acoustics call for differing approaches to performing the music.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Andy came down yesterday and we ran through the Sampler Suite with flute on the top voice and cello on the bottom voice. Other combinations may work as well, but I don't think any are going to be better. Made me realize some combinations of instruments can use the Suite as is, but others will call for serious tweaking to get a good balance. It's also possible some combinations will need so much tweaking, using different music entirely might be an easier answer.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


When the Friday group started, we were an Eb tuba, baritone, trombone and horn, sort of a low brass consort. Then we added trumpet, clarinet and flute, making us a broken consort in Renaissance terms, and the Renaissance consort has been the closest thing to a model of what the Friday group might be. Adding the treble voices changed things as well.

With the first group, achieving a good blend was fairly easy. The one issue that cropped up most was the melody voice not standing out enough from the harmony voices. With the broken consort things get much more complicated. Where each instrument is in its range, especially the trumpet, has a lot to do with its presence in the mix. The trumpet playing lower voices only works if it's playing in its lowest range. The flute playing a lower part in the bottom fifth of it's range won't be heard unless there's only the clarinet above.

Friday, December 5, 2008


In setting the stage for understanding how music works, the current draft of the learning materials uses the idea that there's a continuum from speech through music to dance. The Horndog Blogger mentioned immediately below has various quotes that show up on his posts. The one that's currently on the compression post is:
"Music rots when it gets too far from the dance.
Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music."
-- Ezra Pound

Such a shame the man had to end up a fascist for Il Duce and then on to St. Elizabeth's. His early stuff has amazing flashes of insight.

Audio Compression

Here's a great little post over on Horndog Blog covering what's going on with compression, which is used so frequently in audio we hear these days. There's an embedded video with aural and visual examples. 

When Stewart Weaver did a demo mastering job on my "Slow Music" CD, he did the opposite of compression to the keyboard sound, making the softs softer and the louds louder. I knew he'd done something that really changed the sound of the CD for the better, but until he told me he'd used some decompression, or expansion, I couldn't tell how he'd done it. 

Muscle Memory

Synchronicity strikes. I've been formulating a post in my mind about muscle memory, the trigger being the repeated realization that sometimes I misfinger notes on the horn because somewhere in my body/mind I think I'm playing the flute. And on the flute, the non-sequential notes like Eb and F# are my most difficult after years of playing the piano where everything is simply one after the other on up or down the scale.

In the NYT today there's an obituary of a man at the center of a lot of memory research, and here's a snip:
Scientists saw that there were at least two systems in the brain for creating new memories. One, known as declarative memory, records names, faces and new experiences and stores them until they are consciously retrieved. This system depends on the function of medial temporal areas, particularly an organ called the hippocampus, now the object of intense study.

Another system, commonly known as motor learning, is subconscious and depends on other brain systems. This explains why people can jump on a bike after years away from one and take the thing for a ride, or why they can pick up a guitar that they have not played in years and still remember how to strum it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Standing Horn

Still practicing horn standing up and still sort of amazed at how much better I sound. For one thing, the intonation is much better, and I think it's because when sitting I have to remind myself to keep the jaw low and throat open, but when standing that's naturally the way things are. 

The other thing I keep noticing is that articulations are more "horn like". Over it's very long history, if you were sitting playing the horn, you were probably on a horse, otherwise you were standing. Somehow sitting in a chair cuts off the involvement of the lower half of your body when playing, and somehow that limits the physical expression you can bring to your instrument and the sound you're making.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stand Up Practice

I'm working up some Christmas carols on the flute, and know from past experience that I simply play the flute better when standing up as opposed to sitting. Besides breathing better, there's something about standing that gets the whole body behind the sound and expression.

Last night I tried playing the horn standing up and was amazed how much better it sounded. Along with everything else, I had the feeling that my embouchure was forming better, creating a better and stronger tone. Quick short notes were particularly better as well. For the horn, though, the downside is that it's a much more cumbersome and heavier instrument to deal with standing up.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Greg Sandow

Instead of posting here, I've been following the "audience" discussion on Greg Sandow's blog and writing in to him on his contact page. Click that link and scroll to the bottom to see that brief exchange. 

There seems to be some tendency on the part of music professionals to see the "audience" as an amorphous group needed mostly to keep them in a job. I think any performer can tell you a story of other performers dismissing the knowledge or taste of an audience (and other musicians!). The term may have gone out of style now, but a few decades ago some music was called schmaltzy, and anyone who liked it was some kind of rube. Then there's the whole √©pater le bourgeoisie thing that still has its adherents. 

It seems to me the answer is not one kind of music, but offering lots of different kinds of music and styles of performance to appeal to the various audiences out there not being served. If this whole topic is of interest to you, click on the Sandow link over on the blog list to follow the ongoing discussion.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Here's a link to a discussion on Greg Sandow's blog about classical music needing to do a better job of connecting with the audience. I don't often click down into the comments sections of blogs, but did on this post because the need to engage the client for the music therapist is similar to the need of the classical musicians to engage the audience. If that connection is not made, not much else is going to happen.

The difference between the two situations is one of scale. A therapist can relate to clients as individuals. A concert series has an audience. I can craft a session to a particular client's needs and interests once they've been assessed. Any given audience is going to be full of individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds and expectations. 

It is my intuition that most classically trained musicians tend to play for that segment of the audience that shares their deep knowledge and experience of the canon. It's also my intuition that their brains process the music differently than those of other audience members. Add to that the sort of guild-like mentality of many professional musicians that the opinion of "regular" audience members is not as valid as that of fellow professionals and you're getting into a situation where you want people to pay to come hear you, but you don't really care what they think.

Another train of thought has to do with the rarity of people hearing orchestral instruments playing live. One aspect of the learning materials project is to form a group of players that can go out into the local community and play small ensemble pieces at small events. There would be lots of benefits to that, and one would be building an audience for classical music.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Accent and Tempo

In tonight's rehearsal, maestro just said he'd enjoyed listening to the music we made at the concert, but didn't elaborate, moving straight to the music for the Christmas concert 12/13. 

Later he talked about how misplaced accents can slow the tempo and drag you down. We were doing a figure in triple time with two quick notes on the second beat. Accenting them threw things off. Accenting the first beat and letting them flow from that made all the difference.

Eb Tuba

The blog is now hooked into the net enough for it to show up in Google searches, and the word that's getting hit is "tuba", whether regular or Eb. 

There are two Eb tubas in the Friday group. They come in a wide variety of styles, were much more popular back in the 40's and 50's, and have a range from the Bb below the bass clef to the Bb sitting at the top of the bass clef. Their range is meant to extend a few more notes in both directions, but they are rarely called for.

The confusing thing about Eb tubas is that their name suggests a transposing instrument, but they are not. They play the same music as the regular, larger Bb tuba, but have learned the differing fingerings needed to get those same notes. Back when I first wanted to arrange some music for them I could not find that information on the net, nor could I find a fingering chart.

Eb tubas are a great fit for a small ensemble, giving a great bass without being too big a sound. They can also be fairly agile, but can't play running lines like a cello or bassoon.

One of the aims of the learning materials is to give everyone a chance at the melody line. Working with Bill last Friday I realized he generally never played legato, even on Christmas carols where he would use legato when singing. Just mentioning that to him flipped the switch and his playing was immediately more melodic. He said the effort he had to make was much more mental than physical.

The other thing I noticed was that if he played the melody line with full tone, I could play the alto line on the flute and it sounded better that when Andy and I tried that with cello. My first guess is that the tuba has stronger upper partials on the octaves than the cello.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stroke Recovery

This post, on a blog I've not previously encountered, talks about the benefits of simply listening to music after suffering a stroke of a particular type, one affecting the middle cerebral artery.
At 3 month and 6 month intervals post stroke, the patients were evaluated via cognitive assessment. The results of the assessment showed that the individuals who listened to music demonstrated an obvious increase in verbal skills, memory and focused attention when compared to the audio book and control group. The patients who listened to music also showed a decrease in depression and confused mood.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That Story

Since becoming a music therapist in 1980, I've heard one particular story dozens of times, and today I heard it again. The person telling the story (or someone they know) tried out for choir (or band) back when they were in grade or high school, and were rejected by the music educator in charge. Every time I've heard the story, the tone of the dismissal was imitated as being cursory and blunt. This event has always been decades in the past, yet remembered as if it were yesterday. 

As a music therapist, this story always hits me very hard. The psychic damage done to the person in terms of their relationship to music making has usually become a permanent condition. I'm not sure the many fine performances music educators may achieve by brutal triage are worth all the wounded they leave behind. 

One of the issues facing the "classical" music world is that their audiences are grey and thinning. If they want the public to fund and attend all their high art, maybe they should work with music educators to have more than either/or options when it comes to musical participation. And if there aren't enough slots for interested students, maybe encourage the educators to at least have good manners when delivering the bad news. Whenever I hear this story, it's the ugliness of the dismissal that's most vividly remembered.

Monday, November 17, 2008


On numerous occasions maestro has talked about music casting a spell as it is being performed. The point he's making is that an error by any player can break whatever spell has been created up until the error. And that's all a prelude to the importance of "focus".

Yesterday I performed with the small ensemble at the Presbyterian Church, flute for the prelude and horn on the postlude. Then in the afternoon played horn in the Fall Concert of the concert band. Lots to process, but I keep coming back to maestro seeming to be happy with the band's  performance, which to me was maybe a C+. Some things worked, but other things didn't. If we could have strung together bits and pieces of rehearsals where we've played really well into a single concert, the audience would have been deeply affected.

I look forward to maestro's after action report, but right now I'm guessing what so pleased him is that while we might not have cast as deep a spell as we might have, spells were indeed cast, and for us that's a really big step.

World Music

A friend of over 40 years just sent me the link to this video. "Stand By Me" as done by people all over the planet, all out of doors, all wired together. Two of the initial players are in New Orleans, so there's this wonderful rhythmic undercurrent springing from the traditions of that great city. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Mosaic is a flute and piano piece I wrote in 1994 for Susan and myself. We've always enjoyed it, and it gets the best response from listeners of anything I've written. Andy and I have also tried it as a 'cello and keyboard piece, and with a few modifications, it works well. (Though nothing else is going to come close to Susan sailing through it bringing out all the melodic inflections written with her in mind.)

Yesterday I tried it with clarinet and trumpet both doubling the solo as well as taking turns playing it. It can work for clarinet, but not for trumpet. The trumpet needs a lot more rests for breathing and lip recovery. And even with a lot of modification, I'm not sure it will work because of the innate brilliance and power of the trumpet's tone. While the piece is very rhythmic and has a sort of happy bounce to it, there's a kind of wistfulness to it that's unsuited for the trumpet. 

If Maggie enjoys the piece enough to work it up, we could work on doing whatever we can to make it more suited to the clarinet, and then at that point, maybe add some trumpet descants or harmonies. And since Mosaic is a modular piece, maybe new 14 bar units written especially for the trumpet could be added to the pattern. The idea of possible future reworking of the mosaic's pattern has been there from the beginning. Will be interesting to see if it can be done. 

I think the appeal of the piece has a lot to do with its rhythmic foundation. It's not difficult, but not used very much. Throughout the piece, which has six beats per measure, a measure of 1,2,3,1,2,3 is followed by a measure of 1,2,1,2,1,2. Two groups of three followed by three groups of two. It's an easily felt pulse that has the impetus for melodic variety built right in.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Leon Fleisher

This article is about the pianist Leon Fleisher's losing the use of one hand years ago to a condition called, "focal dystonia, a selective neurological disorder related to Parkinson’s disease." After 30 years he got the right diagnosis and botox injections allow him to play with two hands again. Here are two passages from the article that caught my eye.
“We are athletes, but we’re athletes with small muscles. There is a limit. Now you get kids today who can do things with such extraordinary brilliance on the keyboard that they belong in the circus. But it ain’t got nothing to do with music-making.” Practising anything more than five hours a day, Fleisher argues, is not just pointless but actively harmful. “It becomes mindless. And you imprint upon your brain something that is the beginning of the confusions of dystonia.”
His biggest mistake, he felt, was abandoning the principle of his teacher, Schnabel, by aiming for pure virtuosity over vision, tone quality and structure.

More Layout Tinkering

I asked my two long term music making friends Susan and Andy to check out the blog, and at their suggestion have done some more tinkering with the layout, mostly increasing font sizes and darkening colors. It looks fine to me in Safari and in the AOL browser. Further comment welcome, especially if something is unreadable. 

The Google Analytics page they offer for free is amazing. It tells me how many unique visitors and page views there are each day, along with all kinds of statistics that, as yet, I haven't any real idea what they mean.

If the blog ever turns up in someone's Google search request and they click on it, I'll be able to see what it was they were looking for that led them here. I keep thinking that all this technology has to be transforming the culture in ways we won't really see until we're further down the road. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Heart Healthy Music

This research from the University of Maryland looked at the cardiovascular benefits of music.
Music, selected by study participants because it made them feel good and brought them a sense of joy, caused tissue in the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate (or expand) in order to increase blood flow. This healthy response matches what the same researchers found in a 2005 study of laughter. On the other hand, when study volunteers listened to music they perceived as stressful, their blood vessels narrowed, producing a potentially unhealthy response that reduces blood flow.
We're just beginning to get an empirical handle on the effects of music. This study suggests there's a lot to learn, especially at the interface of physiology and emotion.
“The active listening to music evokes such raw positive emotions likely in part due to the release of endorphins, part of that mind-heart connection that we yearn to learn so much more about. Needless to say, these results were music to my ears because they signal another preventive strategy that we may incorporate in our daily lives to promote heart health.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Acoustics Matter

For the concert in the park today, maestro situated the band in a different place than where we usually sit (on folding chairs). Instead of out in the middle of the area, he had us set up in front of the brick wall of the bank that's on one side of the park. That had the effect of amplifying and giving focus to the sound. From my first warmup note I could hear the difference. Our sound was much less diffuse than in the past.

There's a lot to music making that's difficult to really talk about. But there's also a lot that's really straightforward. Paying attention to the acoustics of the performance space can make a huge difference in the quality and effect of the music made.

Veterans Day

The community band played for the Veterans Day ceremony in Taylor Park in Orange this morning and it went well. For me, the band's playing for this event each year, and on Memorial Day, has more significance than regular concerts. For the people attending these ceremonies, the music we play has real meaning and serves a definite purpose. It's as much music therapy as my one-to-one hospice volunteering, just on a larger scale.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Space and Rhythm

In band rehearsal yesterday we prepared a few numbers for the Veterans Day ceremony on Tuesday. At one point maestro said that when playing marches, leave plenty of space between the notes as that brings out the rhythm. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense once you've realized it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eb tuba and clarinet

Every Friday afternoon I'm having some friends by to proof out the part books of the learning materials. Posts with the "Friday" label will be things I've learned in those sessions. Current possible attendees are two Eb tubas, a baritone, a trombone, a clarinet, a percussionist and maybe a trumpet. For the Renaissance and Handel/Bach pieces from the Sampler I'm playing the horn or flute. For the Ten Traditional Songs I'm playing banjo or guitar and singing (sometimes with a mic) between instrumental solos.

This past Friday's biggest revelation had to do with how well the Eb tuba and the clarinet sounded doubling the highest voice with the other instruments covering the lower voices. It was like one food bringing out the flavor of another. When doubled with another brass instrument, the tuba tends to disappear into the bottom of the sound of the other, and it's hard to tell where the sound of one instrument starts and the other stops. The clarinet had the opposite effect of bringing out the top of the tuba's sound, as well as making its overall sound more distinct in the mix. In the Arbeau Pavane, with it's sustained notes, the blend was very nice.

Blog Format

I've tinkered with the format, changing colors of the fonts and the fonts themselves. It's still supposed to be a white background with black print. What colors did the color blind man choose?

To comment: Click on "1 Comments" below. Then choose "Name and URL" from the pull down menu and just put in your first name, leaving the URL field blank. (I think you'll just need to do this one time and you'll be remembered.) Click "Continue" and then type your comment in the comment box and click "Post".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Waves and Particles

Depending on what you're looking for, light can be measured as either waves or particles. There's something similar about music. 

On the one hand there's the flow, arc, and gestural nature of the music experienced over the time it takes to play the whole piece. The music needs to tell a story, paint a picture, create a mood, or have some other overall organizing structure available to the listener. 

On the other hand, there are all the individual bits of the music that make it what it is. Your tone, rhythm, intonation, dynamics and articulation all contribute to the effect of the music on the listener.

In working to improve your music making, be sure to keep both the waves and the particles in mind. 

CDs vs. mp3s

I've always thought of hearing as more of an extension of touch, not a completely separate sense. Your eardrum is really just skin with extra sensitivity than can feel sound waves. Then all the amazing mechanisms behind the ear turn that information into something the brain can process. 

If music has a strong bass line, or is just loudly played, we can feel it tactilely throughout our bodies. To my mind, that has to be part of how music can so affect us.

If all that's true, then listening to music via earbuds or headphones means your experience of the music is diminished. Terry Teachout, of the About Last Night blog over in the blog list, said sometime back that earbuds were fine, as most folks his (our) age are losing the ability to hear the higher frequencies that are lost turning CD quality sound into mp3 quality sound. 

Part of all this might be that we all listen to music differently. A critic has to be very analytical if he's going to be able to say anything interesting about the music. If you're dancing to the music, you're probably listening to and feeling the music differently, in a more non-verbal mode.

A great experiment would be to have a one group of folks dancing to a live band behind a curtain and another group dancing to that same music via earbuds off in a different room. My guess is the people who can feel the music as well as hear it are going to have more fun, and that their dance movements will be more fluid.

UPDATE: Here's a post on The Overgrown Path, one of the very best music blogs, talking about this subject.
Crumb's music just doesn't make sense unless you can physically experience the visceral quality of the sound, and you need serious loudspeakers to do that. Yet, much listening today is done on PC speakers, or even worse in-ear headphones that are prevented, again by the laws of physics, from reproducing the soundstage in front of the listener lovingly created by the recording engineer.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Warm Ups

This story from the NYT talks about new science and athletes warming up before performing.
THE RIGHT WARM-UP should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm up the body.
Bouncy flexible movements are better than those long held stretches that have been in vogue for so long.

Making music begins with physical activity. Paying attention to that foundation can yield great rewards. Taking a few moments to prepare physically and mentally is a good place to start. One reason I so like the Epstein PDF mentioned below is that he pays attention to the idea of preparation before playing.

Mantra Mountain

Google is now finding the blog in searches, and includes in the results a link to the Mantra Mountain CD some friends and I did for Geshe Ngawang Tashi Bapu. If you follow the link, there's a long explanation of the project taken from the insert in each of the CDs that also has the sheet music for each track. 

Basically, the Mantra Mountain project involved the transcription, arrangement and recording of traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayers and mantras. The idea was to make this music meant for spiritual practice available to Western practitioners. The sheet music has the lyrics, piano arrangements and guitar chords. 

As a music therapist, making this material available to the West, most of it for the first time, was an exciting and rewarding project. I feel a seed has been planted that may sprout and grow over time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Consensus Reality

As I start writing posts in my head before typing them out, I've several times realized that there was some groundwork that needed laying before getting that specific. For one thing, while I think I have a fair grasp of consensus reality, it's not always where I start from.

When I was a boy back in the 1950's, geologists believed the Earth was just a big rock whose surface had never changed. To my eye the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America looked like puzzle parts pulled apart and I wondered how anyone could be so sure of what went on way back before people existed. Then in the 1960's "plate tectonics" was a phrase you'd see, and all of a sudden, what seemed obvious to any child's eye was hailed as a great scientific advance.  

Consensus reality is what's accepted by the majority of people as the way things really are, but that doesn't mean they're always right. When I started out as a Registered Music Therapist, the notion of music therapy was not generally accepted as a "real" therapy. To me it was like people not seeing the connection between South America and Africa.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Eli Epstein

Here is the home page of Eli Epstein, the author of  Musicianship from the Inside Out. There is a link at the bottom of the page to the free PDF of the booklet. A closer reading is reinforcing my first impression that it's the best thing I've ever seen on the broader aspects of music making. A very refreshing read for anyone wanting to improve their musicianship.

Musicianship from the Inside Out, p.2

It's wonderful to see a music performer/educator say something like this:
Students already know much of what they need to know; they just don’t know it yet.
Music therapists and music educators do many of the same things, but with a slightly different motivation. Therapists tend to be more client centered, going in whatever direction seems best for that individual. Educators and their students usually have performances to prepare for, so performance technique is a big part of the mix. This quote strikes a great balance between the two approaches. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Musicianship from the Inside Out

Here's a link to a post on the Horn Notes Blog that will lead you to a couple of ways to download a free booklet titled "Musicianship from the Inside Out". It only took a few minutes for me to download it over dial-up. It looks to be one of the best discussions of musicianship I've ever come across. The author takes a very fresh look at music making and has a number of very helpful suggestions.

Lip Callus

Over the past several weeks I've had something like a callus that's been coming and going on my lower lip where it comes up to connect with horn's mouthpiece. Part of the problem is that I'm the only horn, so I have a more high notes than I can comfortably play. I end up jamming the mouthpiece into the lips, particularly toward the end of a piece, to squeeze out those notes. 

But having to play notes beyond my technical level has been the case since I started the band, as I've been the only horn the for four years I've been in it, with the exception of a few months a while back when a high school player joined us for a semester. 

So I've been trying to figure out why the lip callus problem has popped up now, all of a sudden. It may well be that it's connected to my having to take allergy medication regularly for the first time in years, which dries mucus membranes, and my mouth, and so my lips. Philip Farkas talks about people using the "dry lip" method of playing having way more lip trouble.

UPDATE 12/1/08 - This entry got a hit from a Google search, so I thought an update would be in order. I think the dry lips from the allergy med was the part of the problem. Another was that the mouthpiece I was using was old and had lost its slippery sheen, so I bought a new one. Another factor was that I'd been practicing an average of two hours over the course of the day, and really working on the high register. Stopping the allergy med, the new mouthpiece and dialing back practice time all seem to have helped. Also, I've tried to be better about applying "A&D" ointment, an over the counter product that's basically like Chap Stick but with vitamins A and D added, after playing and overnight. The callus is smaller, thinner and seems to be disappearing.

Maestro and cousin Steve, both brass specialists, suggested using a different mouthpiece with a broader rim and smaller cup. I've used a Farkas Very Deep Cup from the very beginning because the tone is so much more appealing. Other mouthpieces I've tried produce, for me, a sound not worth pursuing. In fact, looking into it all, discovered there's a Farkas Extremely Deep Cup, and if the callus completely goes away, might try one of those.

UPDATE 12/7/08 Trying to decide whether or not to try using a little vinegar to clear any lingering lime deposits in the horn, Googled around and found this great write-up on horn maintenance, the best I've come across. This passage really jumped out:
NOTE: Never play a mouthpiece with plating worn off on the rim or inside the cup. Get it replated or replaced to avoid the possibility of lip infection.
I think what precipitated my problem was that the outermost layer of the dry lip couldn't slide on the old mouthpiece and got partially separated from the layer next down, sort of like a blister. Then that thickened into a callus.

On Top of The Beat

One issue maestro keeps returning to in rehearsals is that of our sounding heavy footed and slowing down during passages that should crackle with forward moving energy. Several times he has talked about our using a "lighter" sound. Yesterday he said to not give quarter notes their full value and we played with that lighter sound he's been wanting. We played more "on top of the beat".

It is sort of a forest/trees issue. Our focus on individual notes as they came along was preventing our feeling the overall rhythmic drive. So in music making, heavy/light is a secondary range that overlaps fast/slow. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Indexed by Google

Google has indexed the blog and cached the first four posts.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Working with your voice

Here's something I just wrote to someone recovering from spasmodic dysphonia and wanting to develop his vocal abilities. I suggested singing.
The three basic ranges in music are loud/soft, fast/slow, and high/low. The basic idea would be to find your absolute most comfortable place in each, work to more fully inhabit and project that sound, and then slowly, carefully increase the comfort zone in each of those ranges.

Another less obvious range in music making is gestural. An off-beat genius by the name of Manfred Clynes organized that range as the "sentic cylcle": no-emotion, anger, hate, grief, love, sexual desire, joy, and reverence. The idea would be to practice expressing a variety of feelings you'd like to be able to communicate by your manner of speaking/singing.

Remember that speech and music and dance can be seen as a continuum. Some easy rhythmic movement while speaking/singing might be beneficial.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Googlebot has crawled the blog. Indexing has not yet happened, so the site is still unreachable via web search. Being just months away from my 60th birthday, I find all of this amazingly nifty, while wondering how it will affect young people growing up knowing only a wired world. The introduction of recorded music dramatically altered the culture of music making. Can't help wondering how massive interconnectivity will affect society in general and music making in particular.

Edited Posts

Since part of the motivation here is to improve my writing skills, I'm going back and editing previous posts all the time, mostly trying to make myself better understood, while letting the essential point of the post remain. If something requires a major overhaul, it might get deleted and come back in a different form. The post with the Finale file embedded has been deleted and reposted several times (and it still needs work).

Registered Music Therapist

While working as an attendant and group leader on locked psychiatric wards during my 20's, I became aware of music therapy and went back college (Shenandoah University) to get a B.A. in Music Therapy in 1980. After an internship at San Antonio State Hospital I became a Registered Music Therapist. That credential allowed me to work with emotionally disturbed students in the South San Antonio I.S.D., and that was the largest segment of my private practice in San Antonio as a music therapist from 1980 until 1993. Since then the credential has evolved into something requiring certification, testing, and regular inservice training. 

I went into the field in part because of the opportunity to be something of a pioneer. But it could be that I'm just an outlier. While there's an absolute need for a professional organization, when I read over the literature and the training options, a lot of what I see as possible in music therapy is not addressed. This blog is to look at some of those other forms music therapy might take, as well as being a compendium of various resources that might be helpful to folks interested in music therapy and/or simply wanting to advance their music making skills and opportunities.

So the url for this site, "registeredmusictherapist.com", was chosen because that was the credential I worked so hard to get and is still how I self-identify. It's also to make clear that other than being a member of the AMTA, I have very little involvement with the professional music therapy establishment. In 2020 the credential RMT will be eliminated.


I've opened up a Facebook account, thinking it might be a useful adjunct to the blog. It could be another way of making sheet music samples available and/or maybe some mp3 files of the sheet music. It could also be a way of communicating with interested readers. I think we could use the Facebook site as a conversation area without having to deal with comment spam.

Community Music Therapy

One of the motivations behind this project is to make it easier for folks to share in music making in ways other than formal concerts.  There are a lot of amateur musicians who might enjoy making music with one another if there were music designed for the various combinations of instruments that might be available in any given group. There are also a lot of organizations that might enjoy having some live music from time to time (churches come to mind). Facilitating this sharing of making music would bring more music to more people, and as a music therapist, I feel that would be a benefit to the community.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Move the tongue with air

Start the sound of a note on a wind instrument by having the air push the tongue out of the way. Moving the tongue without the air flow behind it gives a weak attack and a thin, quavery tone. Maestro also often suggests a "da" rather than a "ta" tongue motion.


Dr. Robert Hamrick is currently volunteering as the director of the Orange Community Band. He played first trombone for the Pittsburgh Symphony under Andr√© Previn, has a freakishly good ear, and has a lifetime of experience teaching and directing various ensembles. His analysis of our playing and his clearly stated, and astonishingly on point, comments mean each rehearsal has at least a few master class moments. Since we are a wind ensemble with percussion, some comments relate directly to those instruments, while others can have a more general application. Posts with the "maestro" label are based on things he's said in rehearsal.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sequential movement

When you're having trouble getting your fingers in the right places at the right time, the problem has sometimes begun a few notes beforehand. Pay full attention to your playing of the notes leading up to the problem area to see if you're starting to fall off the wagon before you get to the treacherous turns. 

Clearing up easy problems first puts you in a better position to take on the more difficult ones. The slightest mishandling of notes leading into a difficult passage means your technique is out of balance right when it most needs to be in the flow. That disequilibrium in your physical technique will amplify the difficulties of the problem passage.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Summer Is Icumin In

Acoustics for the performer

Byron Janis on the quirks of acoustics from the performer's point of view.
    Therefore the position of the piano on stage is of utmost importance --moving it only a foot in either direction can make an enormous difference in the sound and therefore in the performance. 

Athletic Music

    A piece from the WSJ going into the uses of music in athletics. Many athletes use music to help improve their physical performance. In the learning materials I'm developing, one of the ideas used in explaining the workings of music and music making is that there's a continuum from speech to music to dance, with there being a lot of overlap between speech and music and between music and dance.

     "Music and movement appear to have evolved together," according to Dr. Trainor. "There are multi-sensory connections between the auditory system and the movement systems"

     Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, chairman of the department of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, emphasizes that much remains to be learned in the field, but he acknowledges that music is "well known to involve the auditory part of the cerebral cortex, the temporal part of the cortex. And the temporal lobe of the brain is intimately linked to the limbic system, the major regulator of emotions." These emotions, he observes, include one's "readiness to perform."

Music and pain management

   Here's another BBC article on music therapy, this time used for chronic pain.
Researcher Dr Sandra Siedlecki, of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, said: "Our results show that listening to music had a statistically significant effect on the two experimental groups, reducing pain, depression and disability and increasing feelings of power."


Acoustics have a lot to do with the effects of music (or just simple sound) on the listener. This is a link to an extreme example, Mayan ball courts. The structure was apparently built with sound effects in mind. The thing about acoustics is that providing for them in structures seems to be as much art as science. One often hears of new concert halls with poor acoustics and of older halls with wonderful acoustics. Part of the problem might be that with the advent of recorded music, people (including architects) are spending less time in concert halls, so they're naturally less familiar with what does and doesn't work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music therapy and schizophrenia

This very small study suggests music therapy might help treat schizophrenia. Therapists used music as a non-verbal communication technique.
"The researchers measured symptoms of schizophrenia and found that improvements were greater among those people receiving music therapy than among those receiving standard care alone."

Music Chills

A short item on the psysiological effects of music.
    "In recent studies, scientists found that people already familiar with the music are more likely to catch a chill at key moments:
     — When a symphony turns from loud to quiet
     — Upon entry of a solo voice or instrument
     — When two singers have contrasting voices"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Music as medicine

Here's a BBC article about the benefits of live music in hospitals. I would love to know exactly why live music is more beneficial than recorded. Like so much of music therapy, it makes intuitive sense, but the underlying mechanism hasn't been empirically demonstrated.
"The physiological benefits have been measured. Music reduces blood pressure, the heart rate, and hormones related to stress."


This blog is a place for me to archive, organize and comment on collected links having to do with music and music therapy. I'll also be posting thoughts and drafts springing from the process of creating music learning materials.