Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mentoring Students: A credo

I take mentoring students seriously. High standards of teaching and performing are standard expectations. However, my credo for mentoring means:

• Being there and available all week long (except for professional activities off-campus – also important – see below)
• Giving students opportunities/challenges to grow as musicians and persons
• Giving students professional performances off-campus
• Yet, encouraging gratis performances to share our art and encourage others (schools and community concerts and presentations)
• Teaching opportunities (peers and off-campus)
• Expecting the highest standards of myself (personally and professionally) providing the best model and example to inspire
• Performing, teaching, lecturing, writing, e.g. being a well-rounded musician – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally
• Bringing the world to our students. Bringing them out into the world. Connections are vital to personal development, developing empathy, widening the worldview, and for professional networking connections.
• Being available to really listen to them, their needs and concerns as persons

I post this for my own regular assessing of my teaching and professionalism. However, I welcome any suggestions...Am I missing something?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Your Growth As A Musician, Part 3. Mapping...a 'method' for secure music memorization


First, allow me a reference back to performance anxiety, otherwise known as stage fright.  And my point is as important and simple as this; the anxiety we call stage fright tends to compete with and block conscious access to long-term memory. And long-term memory is what we rely on to perform. Second, let’s remember that our true goal and purpose is not to reproduce notes and rhythms and symbols on a page, but rather to realize the meaning and emotion of music. Therefore, how we approach memory is essential to reaching our ultimate and spiritual goal in the communication of music to our audience.  And there are several methods or techniques we can employ to strengthen and bolster our memory.  One of which is mapping.

What is mapping?

Mapping is a method of learning music that begins with learning the music as a whole, followed by the discovery of details as the learner finds them.  The term was coined by Dr. Rebecca Shockley of the University of Minnesota who explains how this method is a more efficient method of memorizing:
“Mapping is a Gestalt approach to learning that starts from the basic structure and gradually fills in the details…”  It is in direct opposition to the one measure-at-a-time approach …where the accumulation of details without awareness of the whole results in a patchy performance that lacks unity, direction and musical meaning.”
Steps to Mapping…

1)   Study the music for a very brief moment, scanning it in its entirety without the instrument. Make general observations about the various qualities and attributes that make the piece unique. See and hear the things that attract you to the piece. You don’t have to see all. Remember, you are looking for overarching aspects of the piece that will stay with you as you later investigate these individual characteristics in detail.  You can then choose one aspect, say, a rhythm that is fundamental or repeated in the piece and clap it. Make it physical. Make it yours. You might notice tonal areas that are unique or memorable or perhaps the kinds of harmonies utilized; perhaps a harmonic pattern.

2)   Now go to your instrument, without the music, and improvise on what you have learned are the larger patterns of the piece. Think of this as making a sketch or outline of the piece. Don’t be concerned with playing the details; you are now in a creative mode regarding the overall structure.  You won’t get the notes right, and that is not the point. When finished decide to take another aspect of the piece and improvise on that. 

3)   Make a transcript of the ‘map’ of the piece. Yes, that’s correct!  Write down a general sketch of the piece. You can use some details if you like; and, you can use your own symbols. Be creative!  If you are familiar with Schenkerian analysis/reduction, this is the time to employ it!  Personally, I am influenced by and utilize Schenkerian reduction in nearly every piece I learn.  As with the improvisational stage, there is no right or wrong way to do this. The important thing here is to utilize tools that have meaning for you.

4)    Now get your instrument!  Now, make up something from the ‘map’ you’ve created.  Have fun!

5)   Move away from the map and your instrument to visualization; away from both!

6)   Proceed next to choosing smaller and smaller sections of the overall form attempting to, gradually, place more and more detail into place. This detail will include pitch, rhythm, dynamics, texture, timbre, etc., in the various ways you discover the piece. At this point you are alternatingly moving between the actual score and your general/ Schenkarian ‘map’. 

Mapping can be utilized with any piece, but it most beneficial, essential in my opinion, in any larger composition. 

I hope that you find this ‘method’ to be freeing, enjoyable and helpful as you learn your next pieces.

As always I enjoy reading feedback from my readers. Let me know how you are doing and whether these writings are helping you in your progress as a musician.



Thursday, June 4, 2015

Your Growth as a Musician - Part 2 - On Progress

Your Growth as a Musician - Part 2 - On Progress

One problem that many of us have with "progress" is our tendency to judge ourselves by our difficulties, by what we cannot do, by the ground we have not yet covered.  When faced with a difficult passage, we think of ourselves as "bad" players, rather than as good players facing a challenging task.  We overlook how far we have come and how well-equipped we truly are. This often occurs due to tackling the task in the same way.  Albert Einstein once described insanity as doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results. Beware/ Cuidado!

Some musicians imprison themselves in the same mode. To avoid this try thinking of these four modes of memory: 1)  tactile, 2) aural, 3) visual [which includes fingerboard/fingerings and/or the musical score] and 4) conceptual.  Utilizing only one or two is similar to a four-cylinder car running on only two cylinders.  Thought of another way, these four can be harnessed simultaneously and therefore strengthening/buttressing our memory and therefore our confidence.  Mapping is a technique truly worth exploring and I will discuss this technique as well in a later blog entry.

The important point here is to keep exploring different learning techniques enabling us to stay interested, engaged and like a playful explorer in our musical universe.

Another impediment to our progress is reaching a plateau.  

As with any other subject or skill, progress in music is never a smooth arc.  At various times progress flies and at others the plateau comes.  Sometimes we feel that we are regressing and this perception can bring on discouragement. The important thing to remember when feeling this way is that a plateau is a time of integrating and absorbing what you have learned previously and a time of preparation for your spirit, mind and body for the next great leap.  It is a time of harvesting rather than growing.

Here are a few tools one can use to move through a plateau period:

  • Make sure you are using the four tools mentioned above. Use them completely and throughly, going more deeply into the area of your work which has caused frustration. 
  • Be self-aware. Over time we get to know when we are reaching a plateau. Thoughtful anticipation, as with any recurring experience in life, can help us to plan our approach.  The famous American photographer Ansel Adams has said "Chance favors the prepared mind."
  • Learn with friends. I have my students perform each Friday, whereby they perform for each other and give helpful criticism. If there isn't an organized group already available to you, then be pro-active  and organize a group that group yourself. 
  • Have fun!  Play by candle light. Practice in the dark.  Play duets with a friend.
  • Find a new way to do something that you've been doing the same way forever. Be fresh and new!
  • Try moving around the score, rather than staying in one spot. Yes, you'll return to the challenging part, but only when you've got a new idea as to how to tackle it.
  • Treat yourself to articles, books on your interests. Also find new interests!
  • Go to concerts! 
  • Window shop for a 'new' instrument.  Not to buy, but to learn from what that different instrument can teach you about you and how you approach an instrument. Instruments have different qualities and are teachers in and of themselves!
  • Keep a journal.  There is nothing more helpful and truthful about how we are learning than to review old journal entries. You'll see a pattern of growth spurts and plateaus. Use this information to anticipate plateaus and to dig out of them.  You'll also notice both good and bad habits.  A powerful tool. Use it!
Well, I hope this has been of help! 

Next - Mapping and Keeping a Journal!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Your Growth As a Musician (returning or continuing musicians)

This begins a series of articles on continued growth as a musician; will address those who are already playing/studying and those who have returned to playing and studying.

Here's what my readers can look forward to...for starters:

  • facing/setting your own expectations
  • making progress
  • dealing with plateaus
  • keeping a journal
  • recording and reflection
An Overview-

If you are reading this you've experienced some frustrations in your musical progress. Most of us feel that we should play better or learn faster. Much of this comes from our listening to recordings, and even though we know these recordings are the result of many takes and/or much editing and, it must be said, years of practice and performance experience behind them, we still set our own personal bar against this unrealistic product. 
Comparing ourselves to others is unrealistic (even our peers) and unproductive. The most productive listening is to listen to learn, not to imitate.  Allow me an example from my own teaching -- I'll often ask students what is their favorite music and who is their favorite performer - both as a way of determining appropriate yet interesting repertoire and as confirmation of what I've been hearing, with respect to hero influences, in their playing.  My suggestion to them, and now to you is, "When you reach your goal of playing like [insert hero's name here], when a promoter considers hiring you vs. [hero] who do you think they'll or he/she?" "Okay then, so you can decide now to become someone with a unique voice in the world of music, the best you(!);  or, you can throw all of your efforts behind becoming a lesser [hero/heroine]."  And why wouldn't you want to be the best you.
I'll throw in one more of my aphorisms, one I find summarizes the process of musical learning as well as what I think is music learning's most valuable outcome:  "All the time you think you are making music, it is making you."  If we make ourselves open, aware and vulnerable to change this is what happens. It changes us, makes us better.  So, again I ask, why would we want to be a mini-me of our hero? Let's learn from all musicians, not by mere imitation, but with the goal of observing what we can incorporate into making ourselves. Be the best you!

Next... facing and setting your own expectations!

Happy Practicing!

Monday, February 16, 2015


UPDATE:  KitharaMuse: TRAVELING WITH A GUITAR: Recently, I've had a moment to discuss traveling with a guitar with a student who is entering a music competition and who has concerns ...

Here is a link to what the American Federation of Musicians have to say on the subject:


Recently, I've had a moment to discuss traveling with a guitar with a student who is entering a music competition and who has concerns about air travel with a guitar.

While thinking through what my many years of international and domestic experiences traveling with guitars of all sizes, good and bad have taught me, I came up with a list of to-dos and not-to-dos to pass on to my student.

Not to waste this experience in one conversation, I decided that perhaps readers of my blog might find these suggestions useful as well.

So, here goes....

I have a few suggestions regarding travel with guitar.

I ALWAYS do my best to get my guitar on the plane. I strongly suggest taking the guitar onboard, especially in this weather.

I ALWAYS investigate the size of the overheads BEFORE purchasing a increase the chances of getting the guitar onboard.

Try to be the first on so as to get an overhead.

I walk on past everyone as if it is the normal thing to do, never drawing attention to the guitar. 

Speaking pleasantly and innocently with flight crew about storage (coat locker, etc.)….should they stop you… is  always a good thing.

IF all efforts to get the guitar on fail, then be sure to get a valet tag; take the guitar to the flight deck and leave it with the strollers. It will be hand carried to the luggage hold.  It will be the last on  (on top of luggage) and first off (once you arrive). 


Even guitars in flight cases experience breakage around the headstock, because of being dropped or shaken.

It is a good idea to place a cushion of towel or foam over the bridge area (the second most vulnerable area – after the headstock).

REMOVE ALL HUMIDIFIERS  or empty them of all water. (TSA will only take it out, and perhaps away, or at the very least, run it through an analyzer - slowing down your progress).

REMOVE ALL METAL (files, etc.)

Attached is link to the latest FAA policy on musical instruments  READ AND KEEP IN YOUR CASE:

Best Wishes and Safe Travels,

Robert Trent