Eric Salazar

Making Music for Our Time

This is the website of Eric Salazar--Clarinetist, Chamber Musician, Teacher, and Innovator. Come see what Eric is up to on this site!

Practicing Tips #2: How to Find Your Sound Part 2

Welcome to the second entry of Practicing Tips! My goal for this blog is to help people get better at playing their instruments, show people how to teach themselves, develop a community place where musicians can go to share advice, increase confidence of regular readers, and have some fun!

How to Find Your Sound Part 2

In How to Find Your Sound Part 1 we looked at how Long Tones With A Mindful Ear and Meaningful Scales can help you find your ideal sound (full post here). Your ideal sound is the vision you hold in your inner ear of what you should sound like. Finding it takes patience, but the work doesn't stop there. In today's article we will explore how to maintain your ideal sound. So many of us sound great in our long tones, but then sound lackluster when we go to play the music we are working on. This is usually because we have more things to worry about than just creating a beautiful sound. We have to worry about rhythm, being in tune, moving our body, etc. Never fear! We've found our sound - now let's learn how to keep it!

Step Three: Experimentation and Improvisation

Although we are using a structured sequence to find and maintain our ideal sound, the process of improving the way we make music has to call for moments of exploration - we are artists, after all. Don't be scared of experimenting! Guess what? We've already been doing it and if you have advanced all the way to step three, you are good at it!

We are going to use experimentation and improvisation to integrate our ideal sound (from the long tones) into actual tunes.

Although we are using a structured sequence to find and maintain our ideal sound, the process of improving the way we make music has to call for moments of exploration
  • You'll remember that we found our sound with long tones and started playing scales slowly so we could keep our sound. We then started playing our scales a little faster and more deliberately rhythmic - all the while using our ideal sound. We are now going to add in slightly more complex musical motion to work our way over to playing the tune. Before we do that, though, let's simply improvise a slow, lyrical melody. Pretend like you are playing your long tones, but make up a melody!
  • Whether you are a seasoned improviser or a first-timer, the act of creating your own melody will give you enough things to worry about to simulate actually playing the tune. This means that you may find your sound slipping away since you have to direct more energy to other tasks. If this happens, try using a long tone to find your sound and then once again play a slow melody. Patience is key, be brave and don't move on until you are playing your melody with your ideal sound! [Note: I would advise playing the same melody several times, so you have a chance to perfect your sound with the melody.]
  • Once you are able to maintain your ideal sound while playing improvised melodies, start to ramp up the complexity of your exploration. Play trickier rhythms, play larger intervals, use different articulations - experiment! This process can take 10 minutes, or it can take an hour. For now, let's just stick to experimenting and improvising for about 15 minutes. 
  • It is so important that you strive to keep your sound as you begin to play more difficult music. You may find that harder rhythms make your sound suffer, or maybe playing large intervals are what throws your sound - whatever it is, draw from your long tones to bring your sound over to your music. Use your knowledge of your instrument to make slight adjustments in the way you are making music until you are happy with your sound. You may find that every time you try a new experimentation you are back to square one of figuring out how to keep your sound. This is ok! Keep at it!
  • Once you are able to keep your sound while playing more difficult improvisations, move on to step four!

Step Four: Play the Tune!

This is the moment we've been waiting for! Whether you are learning a tune by ear or reading from a page, whether you are a music student or a music hobbyist - we all know the struggle of trying to sound good while we play the tune. One of the most frustrating parts of playing music is that we can sound really great while playing something like long tones, but really not great when we go to play music that other people know.

Look at what we've done though! We started with something easy and got ourselves to the point where we are sounding just like how we want to sound. Then, we step by step worked our way to the point where we were playing actual (improvised) music! You are ready. As long as you keep a patient mind and stick to your standards, you are going to sound awesome on this tune!

If you have really put the work in to keeping your sound, maintaining your ideal sound while playing the tune will actually be easier than you think.
  • Unlike our free improvisation, we now have some rules to go with playing the tune. This is the part that usually freaks people out: I HAVE to play in time, I HAVE to do this rhythm, I HAVE to sound like the artist who wrote this. Relax. We've worked our way step by step to the tune. Go ahead and play the bars of the tune you are working on.
  • If you have really put the work in to keeping your sound, maintaining your ideal sound while playing the tune will actually be easier than you think. Remember how you made minor adjustments to keep your sound while playing scales and improvising? Do the exact same process for playing the actual tune. You might need to adjust your tongue, fingers, mouth, even the way you are standing/sitting. Experiment to find and maintain your sound, then bring it over to the tune.
  • One of the things that scares people when playing the tune is that now we have an exact rhythm we are supposed to play. Many of us let the fact that we have to add in timing interrupt the process we use to make our ideal sound. Don't be afraid to take a moment to play things from the tune very slowly or even out of time to perfect a body motion while maintaining your sound. Trying to learn the motion and learn the rhythm at the same time doesn't always work. You may have to isolate the way you are strumming, moving your fingers, using your tongue, etc. If you can't do the motion slowly and ambiguously with your ideal sound, you will not be able to do the motion with specific rhythmic timing with your ideal sound. Figure out how to make the sound first on its own, then work to make the sound happen in time.
  • It's at this point that we have to reach in to our extensive bag of tricks to teach ourselves how to play with our ideal sound for all kinds of different situations. Don't worry, you can do it. If you are an artist, you must take responsibility for improving the way you make music. This means trying new methods, being patient, working through difficulty, and consciously making decisions about your craft. Good luck, you can do it!

NOTE: If you are having trouble with a specific moment in the music, let me know and I can share with you some tricks for situation-specific problems!

Thanks for reading my four step process to finding your sound. I hope this has given you a tool to improve yourself. Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

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