About Andrew Dougherty

I am currently a student at George Mason University studying Music Performance. I play and teach the tuba professionally. This blog is designed to give younger musicians and colleagues a source of inspiration and the resources they may need. I will give my perspective on a tuba player's world.

Alan Baer Masterclass

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Alan Baer, Principal Tubist of the New York Philharmonic, give a masterclass at the Army Tuba and Euphonium Conference here in DC. I will keep my own anecdotes short and simple, but I must say how down-to-earth Alan was; if he cracked a note, he blew it off or laughed saying “even the best of us do it”. His masterclass focused on orchestral audition preparation and repertoire. As he said “We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room. But now I’m playing for all tuba players… so I’m kind of nervous.”

Alan Baer Masterclass

– Realize that the excerpts are easy; it’s just a matter of control.

– The hardest thing is to get over your ego.

– Naked Tuba

– What do we want the tuba to sound like?

– We play for these auditions, and 99% of the time, we are the only tuba player in the room.

– Think of the committee as complete children. You have to speak so clearly that they understand.

– So much is lost beyond the stand.

Meistersinger

– The horn is so efficient that you don’t have to beat the hell out of it. You can really relax.

– Practice with the drone.

– Use a metered trill to practice.

Damnation of Faust

– Once you play those first four notes, you cannot change.

– On the ascending line, keep going to the high F, so that you ear train it. If the lines goes up, follow it.

– Play pretty.

– The committee does not want to hear you play the ride as loud as you can, they want to hear if you can play in tune and balance the section.

– Use a drumbeat in your practice. It’s doing the subdivision for you.

Prokofiev 5

– I advocate going back and fourth between the F and C. Match mouthpiece rims as well, otherwise you are confusing.

– Get yourself used to the multiple valve combination.

– Use the aperture and embouchure from a Db to use with an F# so that you do not overcompensate.

– Learn how to breath before you start something.

– There is a fine line between when your chops want to play, and when you want your chops to play. Always practice in time so they work when YOU want.

– Think about being on a committee, and listening to 100 guys play this slow, you are going to be pissed.

– Listen to the strings and how they move.

– I try to be as close to the fourth trombones sound as possible. I think ‘clarity for the basses and the mass for the trombones’.

– Get your valves vented.

– Not too loud, pretty.

– Make your music satisfy you.

– All of these loud excerpts, I practice at a comfortable mp or mf, so that you can make it pretty.

– Everything that you play, play with intent.

– “Now I’m going to play everything like the second movement of the Vaughan Williams”

Mahler 1

– “I don’t think of it in 4, I think of it in 12/8″.

– Thick is the thing to think here.

– Use 3 for the A and 1-2 for the D, if on F tuba.

– Whenever we miss a note, there’s a reason. Start looking for a reason.

– Do this one when the horn is absolutely cold, because that’s the real situation.

Fountains

– Only breath after the Low E, excerpt for pickups into 12, to show phrasing.

– Drop the wrist to make sure that the 4th valve goes down first.

When it comes to auditions

– You need to sell your product, and you have to believe in it. You must go in and show them, this is what you want.

– Stop drinking a month before an audition

– Next time you’re practicing a passage and you are just getting worse, take 5 minutes and do pushups, dips, and go back to it.

– No carbs before you are going to play.

– Protein bars and protein shakes.

Alan Baer

Alan Baer

inTONEation

Playing in tune is simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple.

Often, I see the “I sound out of tune, thus my slides must move” approach. While that is a part of the equation, the most important things you must focus on are not whether your slide is at 3/8″ or 5/16″. Your best tone and air will give you the best indication of where the pitch is. If you play with poor sound, you could be pinching the note sharp, and blowing it flat, and there is where the slide pulling is really ineffective.

Rely on your ears, they are usually more reliable than what is in between them. As far as inconsistency goes, make sure to simplify: stop, listen and digest the pitch, then play the note relaxed and with your best sound.

Tone is as much a vital part of pitch as slide length is. Once you play with your best sound, then you can play with good inTONEation.

As Anthony Maiello says “Intonation is like body odor: everyone has it, most people do something about it.”

Expecting More From Yourself

Far too often, musicianship is compromised in an ensemble setting. Focus drags, motivation lacks, and our general ‘nit-picky’ attention to detail diminishes. While playing in a large ensemble like an wind symphony or orchestra may seem to mask some errors, it simply does not. Playing to the best of your abilities regardless of the level of the musicians around you can only yield positive outcomes.

If you notice your articulations are not as clear as they should be, don’t settle for “its good enough”. Do not let others around you dictate your playing: whether it’s a high school group you are asked to fill in for, or a big time band, take it seriously and expect your best at all times.

Also, do not wait for the conductor to point something out. Constantly assess your playing and others’ playing around you. Of course, nobody needs a ‘backseat maestro’ correcting others, just be the technique police for yourself. There is always something to make better.

If none of the aforementioned interests you, playing to your peak is also much more fun.

Masterclass: Marty Hackleman

This is the first of many frequent posts of its kind: masterclass notes. As the title indicates, this particular masterclass was given by Marty Hackleman, the former Principal Horn of the National Symphony Orchestra. True words of wisdom.

  • – Imagine you’re sixteen and not good at anything. Practice and learn harder than anyway because you are at a disadvantage. 
  • – Orchestral brass is “don’t stick out, don’t be creative”. The better you get the more you stick out. 
  • – Go in there and lay it down with poise, control and pride. It may not be perfect but its you and your sound. 
  • – Don’t ever apologize, don’t be safe. “Wow I stayed in my box of not offending anyone. Guaranteed to be ignored.”
  • – Music is a communication thing. But its beyond words, it touches you and brings out a language of emotion. You are enjoying the expression of feeling. That pride is communication. We are very vulnerable because it is a very personal thing. 
  • – You have to experience everything you can expect to have in a performance, in the practice room. 
  • – Spend quality time, not quantity. Take your ideal, cut it by a third with the same goal. That way you have to concentrate even more. 
  • – Be consistent. You will be inspired and energized with your playing. 
  • – In order to get the quality time, you must train your muscles accordingly. You must learn, apply, and then play. 
  • – You must have a routine. Warming up is a byproduct of a routine. You train to refine your tonguing, articulation,  and endurance. 
  • – Plan out your time. What are you worst at? Practice that most. 
  • – The important thing about a routine is how things are being done, not just that they are being done. If something starts creeping into my playing, that’s where I know it. 
  • – “I love sitting down and doing the same thing everyday and seeing the differences. What is different and how can I do it differently”. 
  • – If you go into the room with only the goal of success, you will never be satisfied. 
  • – When you are practicing and the same problems keep coming up, assess why. Do not let the next time be a repetition. You must figure out why and how to fix it. 

Harry Potter a Musician?

I am sorry to say that magic simply does not exist… in practice! Performers and teachers can have an ora, or a magical quality about them, but the way they obtained that is not magic. Some are accustomed to thinking that the Chicago Symphony has some powerhouse brass players, but what that magical affect actually is, is a singular unit playing with heart and soul, together. The end product is magic, but often times the process is not.

Many times while practicing I wonder “what is the secret to *any weak spots of my playing*?”. I sometimes assume that there is something that a God of tuba could tell me that would make it happen. Perhaps I’ll dig up an ancient box filled with golden mouthpieces, and the tuba of Arnold Jacobius, son of Tubagodius. This hasn’t happened yet.

How do you get good? The answer is hard work. You must practice efficiently, frequently and with purpose. Set goals, reach them, then set more.

Never forget why you began playing, though. Be the toddler who has no idea what a tuba is or who the Chicago Symphony is, but loves brass because its shiny. Just don’t poop your pants and cry.

We may not get a letter delivered by owls saying we are invited to attend Julliard, or say Wingardium Levoisa and have a soaring high range, but we can practice our skills, meet giants (maybe tuba players), and Stupefy those with our sound… and then we can have magic in music.

One Big Family

Essential Steps to a Great Performance

Many of us have witnessed it: the person who gets up on stage, stops during a performance to correct a mistake or a missed note, then marches off stage without a thank you bow or nod. This type of performance makes the audience just as uncomfortable as the performer sweating bullets on stage. There are many ways to have a great performance before and after the actual piece is played. Here are a few things to keep in mind before, during, and after a performance.

Before- take care of everything in your control

– Make sure you are appropriately dressed for the occasion. If you need some help in this area I suggest artofmanliness.com. Simply put, be modest and professional.

– Ensure that your music is in order, neat and most importantly with you. For brass players, empty condensation from your horn prior to going on stage. No one wants to hear a water balloon drop on stage.

– As Jeff Nelsen (former horn player for the Canadian Brass and Professor of Horn at Indiana University) said, “Your level of nerves will be inversely proportional to your amount of preparation”. Thus, do all of your practicing prior to being backstage.

– Know what to expect and what not to expect. Simulate your performance in your head so it will all be familiar when you are in front of the lights.

– Treat every performance the same: do your best. Whether it is a piece you will be performing in Piano 101, or a recital, never settle for mediocrity. Even if it is a non-chalante piano performance, no one wants to hear you introduce yourself as “Well, I’ll be playing Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid. Its gonna be pretty bad so I hope I get through it.” Rather, “Hello, my name is _____ and I will be performing the Theme from NBC’s ‘The Office’ composed by _____. Enjoy.”

During-

– Focus. Listen and let the music speak for itself.

– Play everything with an exclamation point, not a question mark, as my professor Andrew HItz frequently says. In other words, be confident in what you’re playing whether its right or wrong, and don’t apologize for it.

– Confidence. You should have no doubt that you will be receiving emails and phone calls from the New York Philharmonic or CSO the next day asking for you to be their principal player of… This is an exaggeration of course but do be confident in what you can do. Just as important though, the second you walk off stage tuck that arrogance in your back pocket. Be modest, thankful and open to all comments, good or bad.

– Think ‘do’, not ‘don’t’. In other words, don’t think while playing “oh gosh here comes the worst part of this solo, I hope I don’t frack it”. Nonsense. Think “I’m going to play this part so well just like the other day”.

After- 

– Modesty. This is huge. Even if you are the best musician in the world, do not go on about how much you love yourself. If you have a great performance, the audience will tell you.

– Be respectful, courteous and grateful. Accept all comments with grace and poise. If someone is coming up to you to tell you how wonderful your tone is, don’t say “Yea it was alright, its usually better”. In essence, you are saying that they are wrong. You do not want to do this.

– Finally, move on. It may have been a circus-like frack fest, or a moving experience, but the only thing that matters for the progression of your musicianship is how your next performance will go.

For more performance technique and direction, I highly suggest visiting Jeff Nelsen’s page.

Guy doing yoga behind my tuba

Gene Pokorny Orchestral CD

For all those instrumentalists (or tubists specifically) who are discovering their sound or looking for someone to model after, I pass along the sound of Gene Pokorny. Principle Tubist of the Chicago Symphony, Gene Pokorny is a virtuoso of the tuba and a superb model for sound. In his album Orchestral Excerpts for Tuba, listeners can slowly see their jaws dropping to the floor as the run to the practice room. I need not say much more, simply enjoy Mr. Pokorny’s sound and take this as a tool for your practicing and inspiration for your own sound.

Lastly, to accompany this album, I recommend the Encore Publishing book entitled The One Hundred, containing essential excerpts and suggestions as to how to play these classic pieces.

Gene Pokorny- Orchestral Excerpts for Tuba

The One Hundred

 

Finally Written!

 

Deliberate Practice

Hello All!

Being my first blog post, I will start slow. I used to think that more hours in the practice room meant more improvement. However, not everything is symmetrical and we can end up doing much more “work” for the same result. This is when I learned about the concept of Deliberate Practice: a practice tool, psychological theory, and immense help to our studies. I have attached a link to the website Study Hacks (another great resource for simplifying success) that explains this concept much more eloquently than I can.

Some of the main themes I took from this are as follows:

Playing is not Practicing

Deliberate Practice is very focused, methodical, and planned

Work hardest on your weaknesses

“…busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy”

Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.”

 

http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/11/11/if-youre-busy-youre-doing-something-wrong-the-surprisingly-relaxed-lives-of-elite-achievers/