Okay, fellow musicians: I’m going to try to convince you to take more notes.
At lessons, at concerts, and especially at masterclasses.
First, let me say that I’m not trying to put myself up there as someone who’s figured it all out. That is miles from the truth. Every now and then, though, I stumble into an idea that seems useful, and I share it with all of you. I’ve also killed a MacBook by spilling a beer all over the keyboard, though, so believe me: I’m totally cherry-picking here.
The Rafael Mendez Brass Institute
In the summer of 2009, I attended the Rafael Mendez Brass Institute, a six-day long seminar on brass playing. I got to hear masterclasses and performances by some of the best trumpet-playing musicians in the world: Allan Dean, David Hickman, Al Hood, John Marchiando, Ronald Romm and others, plus the rest of the Summit Brass. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a world-class performer. I played in a brass quintet coached by Ralph Sauer, former principal trombone in the LA Phil. It was a transformative experience and a major inspiration to practice more, practice better, and practice now.
It’s been five and a half years since that incredible conference, nearly a week of the best players in the world talking about how to do what they have done. Off the top of my head, here’s what I remember:
One thing Allan Dean said about the importance of timing in lip slurs.
Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to take notes during the conference. Nine pages, to be exact. When I review these notes, I’m amazed at the information I’ve forgotten from that conference and how lucky I am to be able to go back in time at any moment to get additional value from it.
Looking over these notes, I see a lot of ideas I completely missed the first time around because I either wasn’t ready to hear them or didn’t need to hear them in that moment.
For example, here’s a quote in my notes from John Marchiando (probably paraphrased a bit):
Vary your [practice] routine. If you can do it while watching TV, it probably feels good but might not sound good.
At the time, I didn’t think much about this idea. I was already doing a pretty good job of varying my routine. Right now, though, as I review these notes, it’s exactly what I need to hear. My routine’s gotten stagnant, and reading these notes has just reminded me of that. Time to change things up.
You Can’t Eat the Whole Pizza at Once
This was an intense six-day conference, and there was no way I could have immediately applied everything I heard.
It’s kind of like being hungry and having an entire pizza sitting in front of you. If you don’t take notes, it’s like eating three slices and throwing the rest away because you’re full now.
That’s crazy talk, of course. You’ll be hungry again tomorrow, and most of the pizza’s value isn’t available to you immediately. You have to spread it out over time. Besides, everyone knows that pizza is better left over.
Information works the same way. We can’t eat an entire pizza in one sitting (hopefully), and our brains can’t immediately take in everything contained in an hour-long masterclass. We have do one of two things:
A: decide to be okay with forgetting most of what we’re about to hear, or
B: record the information for later review
I don’t know about you, but when I choose A, I usually end up wishing I’d chosen B.
Try taking notes at your next lesson or masterclass. You won’t be sorry you did.