Hannemann’s Music Corner: Get Ready for Session Work

Hannemann’s Music Corner: Get Ready for Session Work

Here’s an option for work in the music profession is session and studio work.

Did you know that New Mexico is the fourth largest producer of films? That means when you feel confident enough, you can see about getting some studio work in Albuquerque.

The job requirements are:

  • Be able to play anything and everything.  Bach to Beatles – classical (all forms), country (all forms), jazz (all forms), folk (all forms), blues (all forms) — everything (all forms). This means practice playing everything.
  • Be able to sight play something you’ve never seen before as if you have been playing it for 20 years, in other words, perfectly.
  • Be able to improvise.

The above is a skill set, which means you can learn this. But how?

Studio musicians have a “trick,” a practice routine which goes to the heart of number two on our list above. Each day you spend 10 to 15 minutes playing something you’ve never played before and are planning to never play again. There is a series of books called, “A Tune a Day” which is comprised of music chosen specifically to build technique. That’s a start, but number one above says, “play everything,” so you will want to snag print music representing everything.

Now there is an upside and downside to the approach of sight playing set pieces. The upside is you become familiar with a variety of styles of music and the fundamental idiosyncrasies of each style.  If you pay attention, and do a little music analysis, you can learn a lot about each style.

The downside is that set pieces are, to greater or lesser degree, a bit formulaic. They are, after all, of a given genre/style each of which has a set of composing techniques which define the genre/style.

Extend this out to “play anything.” I’ve developed a routine for my students, which, if you do the exercises, will get you there and which will pretty much guarantee that you can’t run out of material.

Get a deck of blank index cards On each card make a staff with clef and put in a single note.  Do this for the full range of your instrument – one note per card. Voila, flash cards for your instrument.

Now, get a sheet of manuscript (music) paper. Shuffle your cards, then write the notes in the order they happen on the staff paper. Don’t bother with quarter notes, half notes etc., that’s later. Just put in empty note heads. Now play it. Once.

Now repeat the exercise – shuffle, notate, play. Do this at least three times a day.

It won’t make musical sense. It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to get you around on your instrument from anywhere to anywhere, which is what you have to be able to do when sight playing a score – and some composers do really strange stuff that seems to make no sense anyway.

Once you can do this fairly easily, it’s time to add rhythm. Now once more with the index cards. Don’t write in a staff this time, you won’t need it. On one card, draw a whole note.  Then do a card for each of the following:

  • Quarter, dotted half. 
  • Dotted half, quarter. 
  • Two halfs. 
  • Quarter, half, quarter. 
  • Half, quarter, quarter.
  • Quarter, quarter, half. 
  • Quarter, quarter, quarter, quarter. 

These are the basic ways to divide an apple into fourths.

Now shuffle your cards and enter the note heads as before. Next, shuffle your rhythm cards and apply to your exercise. Your first two notes might be E and A and your rhythm card might be quarter, dotted half You  would play E quarter note, A dotted half. Now play it.

Once you get reasonably fluid at this you can expand. Using quarter notes and eighth notes, you can divide a half note with the same rhythmic patterns as a whole note. Ditto dividing a quarter note using eighth notes and sixteenths.

Now add triplets in quarters and eighths.

At this point, you should have a passel of note cards for your instrument and a passel of rhythm cards of halfs, quarters, eighths, and sixteenths. So, shuffle and notate all your note cards then apply all your rhythm cards. Play it.

Get a metronome. Get good at doing these exercises at 60. Then up it to 80. Then to 100. Then to 120. Then try some in-between speeds.

Save your exercises. After a year, you can shuffle your exercise sheets and play one page a day.  Since it won’t make any musical sense, you won’t be tempted to learn/memorize it, which means a year later it will be as “fresh” as it was before.

Do this little exercise three shuffles a day and hear your sight playing improve dramatically. As you progress, you should start to notice that playing a set piece at first read gets easier and easier, and somewhere along the line it will seem a cinch.


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