3 Simple Steps To “Hear It Before You Play It”

February 26, 2016

Faculty Author:

 

 

 

 

 

It might be simple, but simple things aren’t always easy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All through middle school, high school, and college, my teachers would tell me, “Hear it before you play it.” Simple enough, right? To play the right note or play with good tone, “I only had to hear it.” The problem was that it took me years (ok, if I’m honest, at least a decade) to finally accept that all the great brass players could, in fact, literally, and truthfully, hear the desired pitch in their mind before they played they played it! Not only could they, in fact, literally, and truthfully, hear the desired pitch, but that they could also, in fact, literally, and truthfully, hear how they wanted that pitch to sound.

 

Like, IN THEIR BRAINS.

 

You know how you can intellectually know that a concept is true but not fully believe that it’s true? I was the poster child for this syndrome. 

 

The reason I put off training my ears for so long wasn’t because I wanted to be a bad trumpet player, but because I found it overwhelming. Of course the best teachers and performers had great ears – they were the best! (Turns out they’re probably the best because they have great ears.) I finally acknowledged that I had a long way to go, but I wasn’t sure how to get there.

 

Here are the steps I took that helped me, in fact, literally, and truthfully, hear (more) notes before I played them.

 

1. Sing it

2. Buzz it

3. Play it

 

These steps are not original to me of course, but I needed a methodical way to apply them to get the best results. Before diving in, make sure you have a specific phrase you want to work on and decide to fully commit to the process. Keep reading to see it in action and to download a free practice template!

 

Sing it

 

  1. Sing on the syllable “OH” and perfectly match each pitch with a piano*.

    1. Let your tone be relaxed and vibrant (Pretend you’re a vocalist!)

    2. Neither tempo nor accurate rhythm is important here.

    3. Pay special attention to the first note of the phrase, large leaps, and releases.

  2. Sing next to the piano and check yourself occasionally

    1. Pay close attention to large leaps, key changes, or anytime you feel like you might’ve gone off the rails.

    2. You’ll be in this stage for a while, especially at first.

    3. Avoid the temptation to move on to the next step before you have in fact, literally, and truthfully, mastered this one.

    4. Embrace the challenge! Commit to the process!

  3. Aside from the first note, sing the phrase without any help from the piano.

    1. Resist the urge to scrunch up your forehead when concentrating.

    2. Let your tone be relaxed and vibrant (still!)

    3. Tempo and rhythm should begin to be present. Our bodies (embouchure, air, tongue, etc) respond to signals (internal pitch, subdivision, sound concept), and must be trained to respond in time.

 

*If you aren’t able to use a real piano every day and you have an iPhone, I recommend Real Piano™ FREE by Cookie Apps, Inc. Download it from the App Store Here

I like this one because you can change the settings to show two octaves at once.

 

Buzz it

 

 

 

  1. Buzz it while playing each pitch on the piano. Inhale “OH,” exhale “TOH.”

    1. Let your sound be your guide: relaxed and vibrant

    2. Pay special attention to the first note of the phrase, large leaps, and releases

  2. Buzz next to the piano and check yourself occasionally

    1. Pay close attention to large leaps, key changes, or anytime you feel like you might’ve gone off the rails

    2. Avoid the temptation to move on to the next step before you have in fact, literally, and truthfully, mastered this one.

    3. Commit to the process!

  3. Aside from the first note, buzz the phrase without any help from the piano.

    1. Let your tone be relaxed and vibrant

    2. Tempo and rhythm should begin to be present

Play it

 

  1. Start at half tempo!!! Resist the urge to see of it’s “worked” yet and stay committed to the process. Bump up the tempo in manageable increments until you've reached performance tempo.

  2. Let your tone be relaxed and vibrant (always!)

 

I used this process recently with the Tomasi Concerto and it was awesome. Here's what it looked like for me:

The box on the right was for me to write down little reminders about what worked for me. "Breathe out all the pez blocks from the bottom" and "Be eager" came from a YouTube video of a Barbara Butler masterclass. I highly recommend it.

 

Want to give it a try for yourself? Download and print your own chart here. 

 

I double-dog dare you to try this consistently for one week. If you don’t see noticeable improvements, I’ll refund double your purchase price.

 

#butdoyougetit

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