Archive for the ‘100 Days’ Category

100 Days Day Number … aw forget it

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

I’ll start this post by saying that I don’t want to say this is a post about failure. But it is about realizing that something isn’t working, and that I’m stopping that something, and I’m going to muse a little bit about why it isn’t working and I’m stopping.

Back on November 25 I started this 100 Days project. In short, the idea was to practice every day for 100 days uninterrupted, working backwards through a piece (new to me), one measure at a time. I modeled this idea on others I had heard of where people practice a dance move every day for 100 days, posting as they went along. It sounds entertaining and interesting to me. I hoped to be inspired myself by making this continual progress.

But Life intervened, throwing me off-schedule when I wasn’t even 10 days in on the effort. I thought that would be okay, that I would just soldier on. But then I missed some more days, and then a whole bunch of days—and it really felt to me like I had lost the thread of it. I was forcing my practice, rushing to “do my measure” even on days and at times when I was frankly too tired or distracted to do it properly.

There was another element as well. I posted several blog entries about this effort, and publicized those posts (via a WordPress plug-in) on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. And I have a very small number of people who are subscribed to receive an email when I make a post. And I heard not a peep from one other person in the world about my trying out this project—with the exception of a kind of solicited reaction from David Heyes, since I made a post on his Facebook wall about his 100 day project. Looking at the statistics on SoundCloud, it appears that I was the only person listening to the recordings I posted there.

I was feeling deflated that no one thought enough of the idea to send me a comment or check out what I had done.

And then from the library I checked out the book “An Audience of One—Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake” by Srinivas Rao with Robin Dellabough. Just reading the Introduction, I was struck by how clearly Rao described the situation I have found myself in: playing to an imagined crowd, expecting fame and accolades and receiving none. Rao writes:

In the pursuit of success, the value of creativity for its own sake has diminished, if not disappeared entirely. … We’ve placed celebrities on pedestals and turned their achievements and lifestyles into our new definition of success. The result is a profound sense of dissatisfaction with our creativity. Purity is lost in our work when everything we do is for some external outcome, when every creative pursuit unnecessarily turns professional. (Audience of One, page 6)

That described my actions pretty accurately: choosing what I would do based on an expected or hoped-for popularity, more out of a desire for notoriety and less based on my own desire and curiosity.

So I have decided to suspend the public-facing part of the 100 Days quest—nobody was following it anyway—and focus on practicing for my own betterment and following my own interests.

I think this approach is going to guide what I do in resurrecting the Chicago Bass Ensemble as well. Long moribund after my two favorite colleagues chose to stop working with me (did I take it personally? Yes, I did. Was I right to take it personally? Probably not; I don’t know if their decisions were because of me or not), I have said for many years now that “this is the year” that I get in gear and make something happen with the group. But there too I may have been thinking of “fame” or “success” in external terms, and allowing that to distort my perspective on what I should be doing.

So, just in time for the new year, a new leaf in my playing. Wish me luck. I’ll continue to write here occasionally, but I won’t allow external measures (comments, re-posts, inquiries, tweets) to dictate how I feel about what I’ve done or to influence what I choose to do. Of course, if you’ve got a spot or event where you’d like a small group of large instruments to perform, do reach out to me!!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Jacque

100 Days Day 10/21

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

The “100 consecutive days” is not going very consecutively. Today, after several more days of “not getting to it,” I worked on measure 32.

As I mentioned in my last post, the previous measures are pretty solid. Albeit not perfectly solid. And having not checked with a metronome, this recording is well under the tempo suggested by the composer. I’ll admit it, I’m not super-proud of this effort (today) and feeling a tad let down by the effort (my effort) overall. But I’m going to press on. It’s still fun.

Today’s recording, measure 32 to the end.

100 Days Day 9 or is it Day 17

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Well, that stinks!

I actually missed more than a week of this project, just because other things (“LIFE”) got in the way. I’m pushing myself past my self-disappointment to get this posted tonight.

Follow this link to bars 33 to 42 of the piece. Worked on bar 33 today. Happy to say that the measures that I’ve been working on up to this point actually flowed pretty well. I think that is a testament to this very odd, very focused way of learning and practicing. I don’t know if this is really a successful and smart way to work; but that is the point of trying it out, to decide if it is beneficial.

 

100 days, Days 3 to 8

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

Some very brief notes about my practice and recordings for days 3—8 of my 100 days of learning a new piece. (Rather than post to the blog each day, I’m gathering up the better part of a week. I noticed that probably people who have subscribed to this blog were getting an email each day. I didn’t want to subject my friends to that!)

39-42 (27 Nov) – I did my practice and recording at the end of a long-ish day. I had forgotten I have a Messiah performance this coming weekend, so I “warmed up” by running through the first ten or so peices of the Messieah. My arm is tired—I’m suffering a bit of what is commonly called “tennis elbow.” Find that I had not perfectly remembered measure 40. Caught myself doing bad habit, imperfectly corrected that behavior. Still rushing, even though I checked tempo against a metronome as I was recording!

38-42 (28 Nov) – This day, I worked only on this. I had better discipline, but also added the practice in different rhythms stuff. REALLY rushing when recorded. Felt better about remembering the later measures. Liking my dynamic at the end. You’ll find that because I boosted the mic gain just a little, there will be some difference in sound/volume.

37-42 (29 Nov) – I did a lot more of the different rhythms practicing, less of the 1+4 repetition. To be honest, my discipline was a little lax. I went back to an old technique of playing with the metronome and starting slow, increasing a click at a time, which was a good idea—one that everyone really should use as a tool in the practicing toolbox. My overall problem is that I just don’t have a lot of time in the evenings. But then again I’m only doing a measure at a time!!

36-42 (30 Nov) – I stipulate that 10:30 pm after having a beer is NOT the best time for me to practice. I was not very disciplined at all although maybe I still got a decent result. I’m willing to give myself some congratulations for the discipline to not have a second beer with friends at the bar but instead come home and do this.

35-42 (1 Dec) This was recorded using my Zoom recorder, while practicing at the school at which my wife teaches. If you listen closely you might hear in the background some of the pandemonium of the Chicago Waldorf School Holiday Fair in progress. I began the day by sitting in in the bass section of the school’s chamber ensemble, playing a selection of frankly mediocre arrangements of holiday tunes. Then a trombone playing friend and I played duets for 90 minutes to accompany the candle-dipping room. All good fun, and for a good cause! Exhausted, I took a nap on the floor of the music office, then practiced measure 35 for a while and recorded what you hear.

34-42 (2 Dec) – After a lightning-quick-through-the-major-pieces rehearsal and then a “sing along” performance of Handel’s Messiah, I came home, had dinner, practiced ever so briefly without any discipline whatsoever and recorded measures 34 to 42 of the Armand Russell Whimsical Prelude. As on the 30th of November, I’m giving myself props for actually doing this and not just claiming my right to break my own rules, but I won’t hold this up as a stellar example of how best to organize your life as a practicing musician.

So, what are my overall observations thus far? Well, forgetting about commitments you have made is a bad thing … you might note that in the blog post that began this series, I said “I don’t have much coming up …” well, I actually did, and I had forgotten that. Second, I’ll confess that discipline to do this ‘exactly’ the way I set out has been lacking, but I’ll also argue that my initial framework was probably a little over-limiting. Third, I’m having fun, even if I am exposing the sloppy underbelly of my playing.

I’m adding all the recordings I am making to a SoundCloud playlist: you can listen to the progression measure-by-measure.

I’d love to hear any comments that anyone has!

100 Days, Day Two

Monday, November 26th, 2018

Measure 40 has been added to the collection. https://soundcloud.com/jacque-harper/100-days-of-bass-40-42 It’s going really well, don’t you think?

I did rush a bit on this excerpt. Tempo is supposed to be quarter note = 96, I am a shade faster than that.

It took a little bit of discipline to practice it properly. I was so tempted to just play it through a bunch of times!

100 Days—mm41-42

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

The start of a new little project.

100 days

I don’t have much playing on the schedule for the next month or so. And I have wanted to do this “100 days” thing for a while: Pick an endeavor, do it every day for 100 days, post to the world as you go. I think I have seen people do it with dancing and the results are a) entertaining and b) show how working on something small every day can make a real difference, an improvement.

My daughter’s first violin teacher challenged her with this once; the reward was to be that if she practiced 100 days in a row, he would take a horseback riding lesson!!

Here’s a link (which I hope works) to David Heyes announcing the start of his 100 day quest.

A Way to Practice Better?

One of the flaws I have in my practicing is that I often approach learning something new by just hacking through it over and over and over. And I think this means that what I really learn is all the wrong ways to play something. Then I spend a lot of time undoing all of that learning.

Noa Kagayema has written extensively about practice strategies (here’s one blog post for instance). One technique that I think must be great but always feel too impatient to do is to practice a small section of something in the following way:

  • play it once
  • mentally rehearse it—”exactly as it should be” in your mind four times
  • repeat the above two steps two more times.

So when you’re done, you have practiced the section fifteen times, but your hands are only tired from three times. And you’ve given the section a lot of thought.

So What Does this Add Up To?

Here’s what I’m going to do. I have picked a piece. Not completely at random, it happens to be a composer I really like, Armand Russell. But it is something that I have never played before and have never heard. I am going to work on this piece for 100 days. I am going to work on one measure per day, using that “15 reps” method I described above. And I’m going to work backwards, i.e. starting with the last measure and moving to the first. Each day, a new measure.

The piece I’ve chosen is “Whimsical Prelude” from Russell’s Preludes and Nocturnes for unaccompanied double bass. (Recital Music RM1000) The piece is actually only 42 measures long, so when I get to playing the whole thing (about 42 days from now), I’ll either continue to work on it for more days or move to another of the 5 pieces in that collection. So here’s a link to the recording of the first day: https://soundcloud.com/jacque-harper/whimsical-prelude-41-42

I stipulate that I have already broken my pledge; I worked on and recorded two measures today. But measure 42 is only a held quarter note followed by a sixteenth and an eighth note. It was just begging for more. Also, I fully expect that I will miss a day here and there, so this won’t be the last time I break my own rules. But the spirit of the idea is intact!

I’ll tag each of these blog posts with “100 days.” And they will almost certainly follow each other with very little interruption, so you should be able to just go next next next through the posts and fast forward through my progress. I love to hear comments!