Three Easy Steps to Becoming a More Musical Performer

One of my most technically advanced students was without doubt the least musical. I have also had the privilege of working with students who exhibited great musical sensitivity and were technically challenged. Wouldn’t it be great to be one of the gifted who has been able to combine both attributes? There are many who exhibit this gift and we, mere humans watch in envy at their ability. Enough with the poetic license, lets get to the good stuff.

Great musical performances do not happen by accident. Every accomplished performer has spent decades striving for perfection in their art. What makes the difference between the great players and the rest? It isn’t the ability to play each note in tune at the correct interval. It isn’t observing the articulations and dynamics. Anyone can do that with practice. If it isn’t the obvious, it must be the less obvious differences which widen the gap between them and us.

What are the less obvious differences between the gifted and the less gifted?

I mentioned earlier that one of my students was an incredibly gifted technician as far as trumpet playing was concerned. I remember at the end of the one Spring semester, this student asked me if I could assign material to him to work on over the summer. I obliged and sent him home with the most difficult trumpet solo I had ever owned. Noticed that I said owned for on my best day, I could not have played it at even an acceptable level. At his first lesson the next Fall semester, he asked if I would like to listen to his solo which I had earlier assigned. Not even remembering the assignment, I responded, “Yes, I would like to hear what you have prepared”. I recognized the first note as he began but after that, I couldn’t keep up with his performance of the number. He not only had learned the extremely difficult solo but was performing it faster than I could read the notes! This was an amazing student and also one of the most unmusical students I had ever worked with. The flip side of this humbling experience would be the student who even before playing a note, could give you the feeling a warm tropical breeze brushing over your face. This student could take in air, and you had the feeling that their first note would be the most beautiful sound in the world. Unfortunately after his/her first note, you realize that he/she had no technical ability to sustain this inspiring musical moment.

Musical performances can be broken down to just a few elements which affect the final out come.

  • The right note
  • The correct intonation of that note
  • The appropriate articulation for that note.
  • The correct dynamic for that note.
  • The proper release of that note.

After the first note we then move on to the next note and continue through the piece. How simple life would be if that was all great playing required. The example of the first student I gave was exceptional at performing the list above. He seldom missed a note, had the correct intonation as well as the correct dynamic and eventual release. So why did his playing stink? Great musical performances are judged not by the obvious but by the less obvious and for that reason I will be addressing the felt or implied, rather than the obvious changes in our quest for true musical playing. I will be using three basic areas for my suggestions-

1.      Part 1 Dynamics

2.      Part 2 Tempi

3.      Part 3 Preparation, Achievement and Completion

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

3 thoughts on “Three Easy Steps to Becoming a More Musical Performer

  1. Gracie Anderson

    Awesome article! I have learned before that the chills we feel when we listen to a band or piece is called “music frisson”. I agree that some people can learn a piece by practicing, but if they don’t give a heart to their performance, the result will not give you chills.

    • Bruce Chidester

      Tanks for stopping by and the very best to you and yours from the Branson Trumpet Ensemble.

  2. Shawn

    Great Story! You’ve got a knack for putting me in that room, listening. Thanks,

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