Category Archives: Practice

Malcolm MacFarlane Masterclass

The Haddington Bridge Centre Music Project is offering a unique and free opportunity for young people, aged 12-25, to take part in a guitar master class on Sunday 26 September, 2.30-4.45.  The class will be run by acclaimed guitarist Malcolm MacFarlane.  A seasoned performer and recording artist, Malcolm also teaches at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama.

Here is a poster which you could pass on to those you feel might benefit from this opportunity: Malcolm MacFarlane Masterclass

Just as I thought….

For years I have encouraged beginners occasionally to recite the names of notes aloud while playing. My feeling was this practice, annoying as it seems to be for them, encourages them to decide more quickly what they are going to play, resulting in their being able to keep up with the group. At any rate, the playing and reading both seem to improve from this practice.
I was heartened to read in an article entitled The Voice of Reason, in this week’s New Scientist, that there may be another reason for this – that naming improves categorisation, memorisation and, as a result, future recognition.
Many people would argue that they’d prefer to name the notes silently to themselves. The trouble is that they don’t notice when it stops – and neither does anyone else e.g. their teacher.
At the moment, the article, is not online but hopefully it will be at some point. One other estimated statistic is that “out loud” conversation accounts for only 30% of the verbal activity in our brain – this is self-generated verbal activity and does not refer to reading nor, as far as I understand, writing – just thinking and talking to ourselves.

Instrumental Instruction

Most people studying an instrument seriously at some point look into the evolution of their instrument: physics; ergonomics; manufacturing; technological innovation, national differences etc. Strangely, I’ve never once considered the origins, adaptations and alternatives to an instrument that millions of us use on a daily basis – the QWERTY keyboard.
Stephen Fry looks into the history here (2 days left to listen).
Here is an example of one of many rival systems featured in the programme. Interestingly, the notion of rhythm comes up, when a user of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard takes down some dictation.

First Day Back – First Aid

I’ve always believed it necessary remain a pupil if you hope to be a good teacher and the chance to be a pupil was offered today in the form of an excellent First Aid course.  Bobby Hall
of Hall First Aid Training, took 15 instrumental instructors through a variety of emergency first aid procedures in The Supper Room of The Brunton Hall.  Not only a highly experienced practitioner, Bobby struck me as a natural teacher.  The course was very hands-on and we were led to reflect on practical issues through intelligent and entertaining questioning.  Being a lover of language (and, if I’m honest, a tireless pedant) I was very taken with the precision of the language required for this subject, which strikes me as somewhere between a science and an art.
Another feature which impressed me was the gentle way in which some serious points were conveyed – particularly that we should not be crippled by remorse if an intervention does not result in the saving of a life.  It’s surely better to have done one’s best for a fellow human being than to have been helpless spectator, condemned forever to wondering “what if…?”
While I’m banging on about beliefs, let me restate how resonant I find the idea (which I came across in Clive JamesVisions Before Midnight) that the situations which benefit most from humour are serious ones.  You can see from the snaps below that we really enjoyed the day:
While chatting with Bobby at the end of the course, I asked him if there were YouTube resources worth visiting to refresh our bandaging skills.  He pointed out the problem that much of the material is from the USA where approaches and techniques differ from those here.  I suggested that he could upload some films on his own site. He wasn’t for biting but I hope that he might reconsider.  I’d be more than willing to help out with filming. For one thing, it would be a form of revision in itself.

Until then, though, we can make use of the book with which we were all presented at the end of the course:

In The Frame

When does a lesson become a sound check? When many variables have to be investigated. David –  now starting S6 at Knox – is to receive the Higher Music prize next week, in addition to the Michael Godek Memorial Guitar Prize. He is also to perform the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 BWV 1007 – one of my favourite pieces.

To avoid feedback problems, in what needs to be an amplified situation, he has been kindly lent a Yamaha Frame Guitar by my friend and colleauge, Chris Day. So, David & I went to down to the school hall for his first shot of the guitar and to take note of the best guitar and amp settings.
Game as ever, David agreed to be recorded on this first shot and for me to post the recording.
To help you see some of the moves required in this piece, here is my friend Per-Olov Kindgren:
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and to let you hear the Prelude as originally intended by Bach here is Mstislav Rostropovich:
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Grease @ Wallyford – during Health Week :-)

I’m not long back in from a triumphant first night (of two) of Wallyford PS’s production of Grease. My role was very straightforward – to play the bass guitar alongside pianist Ewan Armstrong, of MGS, who has been rehearsing the cast on a weekly basis for most of this session.

The retention of so many lines by such young minds was extremely impressive – as was the singing, timing and general stagecraft. Most of all, though, everyone looked like they were delighted to be taking part. Well done to all involved!

NBHS Malawi Trip

This time next week pupils from NBHS set off for Malawi on a life changing trip. A small part of the plan is to take a bunch of penny whistles along, play some tunes, teach them to peers over there and leave the whistles behind. The whistles, along with other instruments such as fiddle, guitar, will be used to demonstrate ceilidh dances – a feature in which NBHS is very strong.

There are play-along midi files and pdf scores of some Scottish tunes here for pupils to hone their tin whistle skills.

I’d like to wish everyone well for the trip and look forward to hearing their tales next session.