Friday, March 31, 2017

Being A Musician Is Good For Your Brain

People who play an instrument are sharper and have faster reaction times. That’s the suggestion of a study from the University of Montreal. Click here to read the full article.

Playing music keeps your brain sharp. 
Science has shown that musical training can change brain structure and function for the better, improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development for those who start in childhood. 
Musicians may also be more mentally alert, according to new research. A University of Montreal study, slated to appear in the February issue of the journal Brain and Cognition, shows that musicians have significantly faster reaction times than non-musicians. 
The findings suggest that learning to play a musical instrument could keep your brain sharp as you age, and may help to prevent certain aspects of cognitive decline in older adults. 
For the small study, the researchers compared the reaction times of 19 non-musician students and 16 student musicians who had been recruited from the university’s music program and had been playing an instrument for at least seven years. The participants included violinists, percussionists, a viola player and a harpist. 
Each participant was seated in a quiet room and asked to keep one hand on a computer mouse and the other on a small box that occasionally vibrated silently. The participants were instructed to click on the mouse when the box vibrated, when they heard a sound from the speakers in front of them or when both things happened at once. The stimulations were done 180 times each.
As hypothesized, the musicians had significantly faster reaction times to non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory stimuli than the non-musicians. 
Landry says this is likely because playing music involves multiple senses. With touch, for instance, a violin player has to feel the string on her finger, but she also needs to listen for the right sound to be produced when she’s pressing on the string. 
“This long-term training of the sense in the context of producing exactly what is desired musically leads to a strengthening of sensory neural pathways,” Landry told The Huffington Post. “Additionally, using the senses in synchronicity for long periods of time ― musicians practice for years ― enhances how they work together. All this would lead to the faster multisensory reaction time.” 
Previously, Landry also investigated how musicians’ brains process sensory illusions. Together with their previous findings, the results suggest that musicians are better at integrating input from various senses, the study’s authors noted. More studies are needed, however, to determine whether and how musical training might slow the natural cognitive decline that occurs as we age. 
“Playing a musical instrument has an effect on abilities beyond music,” Landry concluded. “We’re only now starting to better understand the benefits of musical training and they seem to range beyond simply playing music.”

Written by Carolyn Gregoire and published in The Huffington Post on January 13, 2017 and updated on January 26, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

10 tips for a successful orchestral audition

Here are some fundamentals for orchestral auditions which will most likely result in positive feedback. To read the full article click here.
1. Show your artistic depth with every note
Yes, you must demonstrate mastery of a number of basics to be successful in an audition. Too often, however, people are afraid to go further and convey real musical understanding by taking a sophisticated view of the music. What’s on the page should be clear, but don’t stop there. Committee members are musicians, and musicians gravitate to tasteful and inspired playing, in an audition or otherwise.
2. Accept the unknowns
You can’t control what the hall will sound like, whether there will be a screen, or who might be warming up next to you. Practise thriving in atypical conditions by simulating them: get a few people together to hear you in an unfamiliar room, set up a makeshift screen and have someone else choose the order in which you’ll perform the repertoire.
3. Make a beautiful sound all the time
More candidates receive negative attention by producing substandard tone than from any other single factor. Pay close attention to treatment of short notes, and avoid playing so loudly or softly that you lose control of the sound.
4. Orchestral playing is communal, but auditions are solitary
This means certain choices about bowings, fingerings, tempi, and other variables could be different than if you were playing the piece in an orchestra. For example, a slightly slower tempo that allows everything to speak cleanly and clearly is preferable to a quicker one where things feel blurry and rushed.
5. Solid, specific preparation is the best antidote for anxiety
You will feel nervous excitement leading up to (and perhaps during) the audition. This is human.  Building the ability to keep nerves in check and your mind focused starts during practice, long before the audition. Have very specific opinions, and practise to retain knowledge of technical aspects such as bow distribution and vibrato that allow you to shape phrases exactly as planned. An audition is not a time for vagueness. Knowing and practising exactly what you hope to reproduce in the audition gives you a constant stream of thoughts to focus on in performance, allowing your mind much less room to go astray. As I tell my students, ‘Just do your thing, and let other people find ways to eliminate themselves.’
6. Recordings are a mixed blessing
It is important to develop a musical understanding of each work that is independent from any recorded interpretation — even a great one by the very group you are auditioning for. Seasoned orchestral musicians have played the standard repertoire many times under different conductors. There is no ‘official’ tempo, fingering, or bowing for any piece. Satisfy yourself with your playing rather than trying to re-create something from an orchestra’s recorded history.
7. You can make errors
No player relishes making an unexpected mistake early on, but remember that your general level of musicianship and instrumental control is what the committee will remember. The difference between a fluke and a general tendency in someone’s playing is quite easy to discern, and a committee can generally forgive a couple of minor missteps in an otherwise well-played, artistically satisfying presentation.
8. Play the instrument you’re comfortable with
Players sometimes borrow great instruments for an audition, assuming that a superior instrument is a real advantage. However, you can only sound your best on an instrument with which you are completely comfortable. If you’re unhappy with your instrument, don’t worry too much about it – a committee will focus more on what you are doing than on the instrument itself.
9. Play the way you play
I often hear of players ‘adjusting’ their playing to cater to what they think a given committee wants. This is a potentially unproductive mindset that can put candidates outside their comfort zone in the audition. Every committee should want to hear someone with valid, sophisticated musical ideas and the technical means to express them. Aim for this broad goal, using the repertoire to express your unique sense of style and musical understanding.
10. Play for people you respect, including those who don’t play your instrument
Feedback from someone who doesn’t know the challenges unique to your instrument can be very enlightening. Great singers and pianists often have insights about the music of Mozart and Schubert, to name just two composers, which can be revelatory to string players. If success at an audition depends in part on showing real understanding of the music we are playing, we must develop a view of the repertoire that transcends our own instrument.
Advice provided by Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Brant Taylor, published on The Strad on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Musical Scales May have Developed to Accommodate Vocal Limitations

For singers and their audiences, being “in tune” might not be as important as we think. The fact that singers fail to consistently hit the right notes may have implications for the development of musical scales as well. That’s the suggestion of a study from the University at Buffalo. Click here to read the full article.
At issue is not whether singers hit the right or wrong note, but how close they are to any note. It’s what researchers call micro-tuning, according to Peter Pfordresher, a UB psychologist and lead author of a new paper with Steven Brown of McMaster University published in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology.
The researchers studied three groups of singers of varying abilities: professionals, untrained singers who tend to sing in tune and the untrained who tend not to sing in tune. They weren’t listening for whether the singers were hitting the right notes, but rather how close they were to any note.
Pfordresher and Brown found the groups did not differ in terms of micro-tuning, although they were very different aesthetically.
“Our proposal is, maybe scales were designed as a way to accommodate how out of tune, how variable singers are,” Pfordresher says. “We suggest that the starting point for scales and tuning for scales was probably not the tuning of musical instruments, but the mistuning of the human voice.”
The space between Do and Re, for instance, is heard by playing two adjacent white keys on a piano keyboard and provides that kind of liberal spacing.
“When you look around the world, you find there are a couple of properties for scales,” says Pfordresher. “There’s a tendency to have notes that are spaced somewhat broadly, much more broadly than the fine gradations in pitch that our ears can pick up.”
This broad spacing helps all kinds of singers, including the nightingale wren, a bird whose virtuosity has been the province of poets since antiquity. Pfordresher says earlier research by Marcelo Araya-Salas found that flexibly tuned instruments like violins and trombones were more in tune than the wren’s song.
Written by Bert Gambini and published in UB Now on February 27, 2017.