Random Bits Of Information

Who's in Charge, You or Your Instrument?

I just rediscovered a technique test and exercise that I'd used fifty years ago, probably on clarinet.... I passed this test on clarinet when I was 12, but failed it just now, at age almost 69, on chromatic harmonica, as I certainly would today, on any number of Real Instruments, including clarinet.

The purpose is to take control over what the instrument tends to want to do naturally. Then, you have a choice about what you play and how you play it. Essentially, you can pick and choose how you want to play, rather than have the instrument dictate it to you. ...and I know what you may be thinking: "It's not worth the effort", and you're probably right.

You might discover that you could benefit by this exercise, (and a few (3) people have been asking for helpful exercises that have brought me to my present level of unemployment) so I'll briefly write what sounds like a very simple exercise..... at least it did to me, this morning.... now, things seem to be different....I want to assume it's a faulty instrument, (or in my case, 32 identical instruments with the same fault)... but, in the unlikely situation where it just may be The Player, here's the test and what might help:

NOTE: You can adjust the exercise for diatonic machines, of course, and I have no patent on it, and I think it will work on ANY musical instrument.

  1. Play a slow, smooth, chromatic scale, (actually ANY scale will work, but chromatic scales, for a reason unknown to me, cover more notes than most scales, and are more difficult to play evenly) bottom to top, and top to bottom, but totally unaccented. Listen carefully for things that aren't even. Make every note sound the same, except for pitch, of course. Tone quality, starts of notes, endings of notes and the stuff in the middle....all vanilla, the same. Smooth. No accents. No different sounding attacks. No matter what the instrument wants you do to.

    Some people will say that there's no need to learn to do this on harmonica, and that identical attacks and even notes played under the player's control are not on their TO DO list, and for them, they're right. I wish I was one of them.

    You are acquiring control over the instrument, being sure that it's not controlling you. Nothing, for now, happens by accident on the instrument. (Real life is, of course, different, and some "accidents" turn out to be Great Music. You never admit the accidents, you just mention the word "genius" when speaking about it.)

    (Note I forgot at first: SOME things will tend to be under the physical control of the instrument, and some of those things can be mitigated by practice or tweaking of the instrument. For instance, an improperly gapped instrument will make this more difficult, in that the notes, the attacks, won't be as uniform as they might otherwise be. A perfect, and fixable case of the player being controlled by the instrument's whims...... so gap better and get on with it, it's a harmonica, you wouldn't have that problem if you'd become a doctor like your parents wanted.)

    (ANOTHER NOTE: I guess this would work on diatonic if you're inventive. If you're one who plays chromatically on diatonic, it would work especially nicely and to me, be really difficult. In any case, the idea is the same. You want to remove the instrument's control over your music and have the ability to be totally in charge. (Yes, a Class A pipe dream...being In Charge of  Something, Somewhere. Especially for those in Couples Therapy, who might not recognize the feeling.)(Real life is, of course, different, and some musical "accidents" turn out to be Great Music. You never admit the accidents, you just mention the word "genius" when speaking about it.)

    Do it until you can play fairly smoothly with no accents at all. As if you were playing one long tone, one that just changes pitch at even intervals of your choice. It's all about YOU having control over the instrument, rather than vice versa. And yes, there IS a give and take between you and the mechanics of the harmonica, but that's the same with any instrument.

  2. Listen to how the instrument naturally tends to want to put accents in certain places. Perhaps as you change air direction or move the slide or change holes. If at this point, it's totally even, I'm happy for you, suspect a tiny bit of deafness or a history of having practiced on your part, but continue, I got this far also. We passed the test. That said, now the work starts. Or you decide to go for a bike ride or that you need a new harmonica.

    Feel free to stop any time. If you can do this, you're doing well. Playing the way you want to, less controlled by the instrument's whims.

  3. Now, if you really have nothing better to do, to gain further control over your instrument, purposefully accent, say, every fourth note, so you're playing groups of four with the first note accented, and, if you want even better exercise, make that first note of each four, tongued, or 'toungued', depending upon how much time you spend online.

  4. Get that really smooth, not too fast, and gradually get it to where you're pushing yourself a bit.... but always aim for even sounding notes, attacks and so on....try to counter the things that the instrument "wants" you to do.

  5. Next, try playing in triplets, accenting every third note, keeping the notes even, perhaps tonguing the first note of the three, as if they were being played as one long tone, just having different pitches. Continue after success, with other combinations of note values. Five, seven and "whatever" notes per beat, bar or however you want to think about it.

  6. For me, this was illuminating. So much so that I took The Bike Ride Option, , planning to work on this tomorrow which, as I work on this note a bit, is today, so I'll start tomorrow.

Once you get this under YOUR control, you've removed some of the control that the instrument itself has over you as a player.

You can even go back to letting the instrument have its way but, you'll be purposefully letting it do that, and will have flexibility. And Control. A new starting place.

And I know what you may be thinking: "It's not worth the effort", and you're probably right.

More Later. I think that needs some editing, but it's Sunday and my religion forbids doing things I have trouble confronting on Sunday. I'll do it in a week.