Friday, September 30, 2011


It is so very interesting and telling how different states of attention affect ensemble and rhythm. It is so amazing to me how one flick of the mind turned in another direction of attention can alter EVERYTHING. I had a group shift their attention to focus on just one of the players in the group. EVERYTHING at least on a technical level was BETTER. Before this switch happened there was unsynchronized starts, pitch was not lined up, blend was jagged. This ALL changed in a big way. The one adjustment in focus altered the whole thing. I LOVE it!

I have done these kind of things hundreds of times but it never seizes to amaze me that it works so incredibly well. This change of attention to one player, ( you have to find the 'right' player for people to focus on or the reverse can happen) is an excellent way to 'create' better ensemble especially if there are issues with concentration or scattered thinking due to attempting to process too much. This makes the mind singular yet has multiple affects. Just like a magnet drawing all the individual iron shavings to itself. Wow! I hope the students remember and put to use some of these techniques and methods and find where else they might apply.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


It is so interesting when asking a small chamber group to think of certain things and to see what generally happens to the music and of course them.

When asking a group to blend, the dynamic gets softer.

When asking a group to listen to pitch, the music gets very dry and tentative.

When asking a group to play with a resonant sound, the dynamic gets louder.

When asking a group to play with better time, articulation gets cleaner and so does the group beginnings of each note.

When asking a group to focus on pitch and blend, the tempo gets slower.

These are some things I've noticed for a long time and it says something about what happens to the person when they focus on individual aspects or 2 at a time. It is really says something about group and individual tendencies. When asked then to just focus on the spirit of the music, the technique in groups that do not have a clearly defined musical agreement on what the piece is about, starts to fall apart. I'm going to experiment with these things more.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Starting the day with a warm-up is a means of connecting you to your instrument mentally, emotionally and physically. It is just not a physical thing. Rehearsals and coachings also need a warm-up or tuning time, (which is just not about pitch!) so people can acclimate to the environment that is generated by everyone in that rehearsal. That atmosphere can be so dispersed because by majority people come in unfocused to the task. They are offset to what the task calls for. Warming-up the individual and the group is vital to be able to work together in shared purpose.

On another note, it takes so much more effort of the 'right' kind to accomplish something at a higher standard than what most students are aware of. I feel my job as a coach and teacher is to help bring awareness to that point. Air-support is one great example. AIR-SUPPORT MEANS ACTIVELY ENGAGING SOMETHING WHICH IS INVOLUNTARY INTO A VOLUNTARY DELIBERATE ACTION. (Breathing is involuntary and brass playing is voluntary). That takes EFFORT. Effort of the right kind. This can only come through practice, meaning constant, regular, thoughtful, attentive work. Even when we have some accomplishment and our efforts are closer to the 'right' kind, (meaning our automatic systems are filled mostly with habits that are efficient, and balanced in their mechanics), we still can't totally go to sleep at the wheel. This is another great thing about warming-up, it keeps us 'tuned' so to speak to what we are doing. If warming -up is regular, we can tell when things need adjustment.

It seems at times because of all there is to learn, retain and juggle, students can loose track of what they are aiming for. When I am coaching my groups, I always try to assess afterwards if I was too demanding. My focus is on what it takes to get the musical results, which does in my mind, automatically include the basics of ensemble playing. But each person has to be at full and that is where oftentimes the efforts fall short. If the standards in the practice room were higher, then maybe the attitude of finer standards would appear in the ensemble playing as well. Because focus and holding to the standard would have been 'practiced.' The greater efforts would be a regular feature.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The great juggling act of pitch, rhythm, articulation, breathing, tone, blending, listening, concentration and last but not least...the SPIRIT of the music! My wife Carol has a fantastic saying that "Music is just the wrapping paper for the essence inside it," that magic something that is the life of the music, it's spirit. Sometimes people spend so much time on the basic mechanics of playing they loose track of the spirit of the music or actually don't give it much thought. It can become an empty, pretty, shinny container.

In a coaching today, I listened to the terms the players were using to describe how things were going coming along in what they were playing. All about the ensemble aspect. In fact, that is all they were talking about. When they played, it sounded more spirited then how they were talking about it. However I brought up some points about terminology. Talking about chord changes, leading, being an 'ensemble' player as opposed to 'leading' a section was some of how they were speaking. Perfectly fine but I find that language limiting for me and it does not accurately translate what is going on to me. But they all understood what they were saying. I put some thoughts in for them to think about.

Is there any part in a piece of music which is really not important? My answer is NO. All parts are equally important in their role. For example, if there is a quartet, each person is 25%, and they need to play their role, part, at a full 100% no matter what that role or part is.
Each voice is a vital living sonic membrane of the group organism. Sometimes you might play the role of the brain, or kidney and bones. All vital to the well being and functioning of the musical body. The music and the technique come together as one living breathing life. But if there is only technical and mechanical considerations and language, will that summon the spirit of the music to inhabit that body of technique? The answer again is NO. The sentiment of the players and their committed search for the meaning of the piece will summon the essence. Otherwise, there will only be nice wrapping paper.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


A teacher's job has complexities. A private studio teacher can have several faces to the student. I am interested in the person finding their way in the field. I am also interested in the person as a human. But I am not a trained psychologist like my wife, Dr. Carol Viera, who is able to deal with both the musical and human aspects at many different levels. However, I do try to deal with certain basic things, if I see it is within my ability and not go beyond that. It can be a fine line! But, if there is real care and sensitivity involved, the right course of action has a better chance of appearing.

I think it is important that the trust is key in the relationship. It is also a nice added touch if student and teacher happen to like each other as people. That does not mean students and teachers have to be friends as such but can have a warm interaction with respect towards one another.

Depending how big the age gap gets, it can feel more like parent-offspring relations in a way. When I started teaching at the college level, the BIGGEST gap between a student and myself was 2 years or so. That is basically the same age and it was easy to become actual friends and hang out together. Now with incoming freshman it is 38 years. BIG DIFFERENCE! That does not make all the relationships the same because you are dealing with unique people and chemistry. When the music really gets happening or there is a strong connection and flow between student and teacher in the territory being made, any age gap disappears into the shared experience. All become ageless.

Monday, September 19, 2011


What is the difference between a coach and a private lesson teacher? Is there one? Should there be one? Can a good coach not be as good at teaching in a private lesson setting? Can a good private teacher not be as good when coaching a group? I do think there is a difference in the two. They are different functions and require their own set of skills.

Some private lesson teachers have not been in a 'serious' (meaning long term playing, working, performing and/or recording together) chamber music situation to know the ins and outs of the circumstance. Some private lesson teachers might not warm to working with groups for whatever reasons. Coaching is dealing with a group entity. Private lesson teaching is dealing with a person with issues no matter how small or big they are. There are similarities of course in these functions but they are certainly not the same.

The group or individual student needs to trust the teacher or coach. The group or the individual student needs to practice on their own and take up what the teacher or coach suggests. A private lesson is a more intimate close range circumstance. However coaching can get pretty close and touchy because of the factor of 'public' exposure or one member being singled out in front of the others. This needs lots of care on the coach's part.

One of the jobs of a coach is to act as a unifying agent or magnet when the group is separating from its intactness. This of course should only be temporary. Unlike an orchestra when all the rehearsals are with a conductor, the chamber group rehearses on their own. This is a real significant difference. The chamber group needs to develop a certain kind of relationship and understanding with each other to be able to communicate and stay on task. The coach needs to be able to spot where the weaknesses are in the group dynamics and make suggestions, offer exercises and/or give techniques for them to work on.

In either scenario, it is a duet between the teacher and student or the coach and the group. Both of these relationships call for agreements, understandings and open communication that is held together by worked out standards and criteria.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Taking time with a student who is not at the level of the majority of the others in an ensemble is important for a couple of reasons. First, to help the player gain confidence and get positive feedback from the others. Secondly, to build tolerance and patience in the rest of the players.

Depending on the situation, the player who is having trouble keeping up because of not being as advanced as the other players could get more out of being with others closer to their own level. Especially if it is creating a lot of stress on them and the rest of the group is getting very frustrated. This can happen more easily in a larger group such as a band or a large like instrument ensemble where there are lots of people playing the same part.

If the students are keen and the teacher or conductor has skill working with people, there is an opportunity to observe and learn what can be done in those situations where someone is struggling. Now, what if the reason for the person struggling is unpreparedness? How the coach, conductor or teacher deals with that is also a good educational experience for the other students. If a person really is not taking the time to do their work, how much allowance should the teacher have? What is the breaking point? I am starting to rethink this in my own teaching. I can have a huge allowance but is that always useful? I think not. But, when should a person (student) realize that their development is up to them? I would say in general terms, the earlier the better!

At the college level the allowance does shrink even for me. But I always am examining how I can broaden my perceptions. That is why it is very important for me to understand what the person's reasons are for wanting a career in music. Plus, what do they want and how much are they willing to work for what they say they want. I realized when teaching at a few state universities the goals were different (from conservatory students) in terms of how much a student really wants to improve on their instrument. Now that is generally speaking of course. Some end up being terrific performers on their instruments. Many of the students I have taught at the state university level were interested in teaching/conducting high school, middle school or elementary school bands. I would encourage these students to practice a bit more and push themselves so they even have a better understanding of what it takes to advance. This will also help them deal with playing situations and challenges they will come across with their students because of how they learned to deal with their own issues. The more a person keeps going regardless of the ups and down they will encounter, the more they can see and understand others because of what it took for them to get to the next stage in the process of their growth.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I really believe that if a student takes up a couple of things from a class of mine or a lesson and actually remembers to work on them, those things will yield results. Practice is a form of either conscious, semiconscious or unconscious repetitive acts which cause a habit to be formed in our automatic systems. Practice in this case really means repetition of an action or thought. These repeated acts can form and govern our behavior. In seeing this, one eventually can see the importance of conscious, deliberate planning in practice sessions. (And of course in the rest of life).

Much of what I say in lessons, coachings or classes, is trying to assist the person in becoming more aware of what they do at the point. Not just in playing mechanics but in attitudes and judgements. This is as important as any technical portion of a practice session because of how it can influence the whole session. I gave an example today of the potency of a person's focus on the first week of a new job. Then I brought up the thought that if everyone focused like that before coming to class and during class, how the difference in quality, attentiveness and progress would jump exponentially. If that was the only nugget they put into practice from what I say all year, it would be huge. Especially if it were used in their own practice rooms.

Some of these ideas will not be realized until the person is in a situation where they really see it's validity based on their own need. Until then, it will be put off for things that would appear to be more pressing or immediate. It truly is all part of the process. The interesting thing is when these things are tried and the results are stark ravingly obvious, you would think that would make a deep impression and the territory would be taken up. But... not generally. Timing is everything and someone has to be ready, willing and urgent to want to take certain things up. You can lead a horse to water but....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


To be able to listen is certainly one of the arts a teacher needs to have or develop. Not just in hearing someone play, but listening to them speak about themselves and their circumstances.

A question I ask myself is, "How much is too much information for someone to absorb?" Again, in general terms, it depends on the individual. Some people seem like they can absorb a lot or rather take a lot coming at them. That doesn't mean they can utilize, apply or even remember what was said. Others can take a little bit and really work with that bit and make it their own. Some students in the exuberance of wanting to do their best and really go for it, can swamp themselves with unrealistic expectations and end up drowning themselves in a sea of trying to do too much at one time. This is where having a plan and a couple of goals at one time can aide in keeping the student on task and productive. I've seen some students recently discover the meaning of the saying, "go slow to go fast." Or the saying, "a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step." A step at a time with a goal in mind. Hey, that just came to me, I like that. It has a flow that might be easy for people to remember. A step at a time with a goal in mind.

In listening to students play chamber music, it is obvious when things are not in sync. Not only in rhythm, pitch or starting and ending together, but in agreement of what the music is about. Often times people just need to play the music a lot with their group to even get a feel for the music and then have ideas come as each person gets to know the piece. There certainly is a period I call the "getting to know you, getting to know all about you" ( a Rogers and Hammerstein song from the play The King and I) that is like dating the piece. Not only the piece, but a new chamber group needs to get to know each other at least on the playing and conceptual level. This of course is just not a student issue!

The Art of the Student is in a sense similar to the Art of the Teacher. Their needs to be a balance between having Allowance to experiment and find things coupled with a Resistance to drifting and not sticking to something. The balance of these two gates will either open or close the possibility for Transference of greater perception, knowledge and ability.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


What to do when students don't come in with the prepared assignment? This is an excellent question I ask myself because some students really have reasons that make sense. BUT, should this be acceptable on a regular basis or at all?

Again I look at each individual situation. I can see in certain people that they are struggling at some level of playing and life. Playing really is just a microcosm of the person at various levels. Some might need to change aspects of the embouchure. Others, the air support systems and others attitude. What can I do as a teacher to help them? I can't give them a dose of determination really, but I can try to inspire and bring out the best in them that will act as a positive force and give them hope.

There are reasons for things. I know through the course of my life's studies and interests, that a person is very influenced by the environment they are in. Some students for example do play worse in front of the teacher others can play better. In the teacher's 'presence' either energizes the student who can handle more energy or it creates a barrier to some because of the higher standard the teacher comes with. This is important for teachers to understand. It is an energy related matter. Some students do start to play better as the lesson proceeds and they acclimate to the higher criteria. But will they be able to keep it up during the week on their own? That is always a big question, concern and interest of mine.

I look at each student and ask myself, "Where do they put their security?" On a physical level, some really put it on the embouchure, others on a strong air flow. Some, but it is rarer, but it on their musical connection. Others are quite balanced and have a tripod of the three, chops, air and a musical concept of some kind.

So the question is, how are these students practicing? What are they practicing? How do they practice what they practice and what is their threshold before they call it quits or say 'good enough!' Do they know when enough is enough? It is all part of the learning curve and process.

I try to have the student be responsible for their own development knowing that I will be there to help them. The roller coster ride to gaining more command can be a tough one and even tougher for some. I am convinced that the attitude and life outlook can play a huge part in keeping one sane.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Most of us have seen some version of the TV show Star Trek. I started watching it in 1965. Hmmmm... that was awhile ago, but nothing compared to the bigger sense of universal time! Anyway, I was thinking of starting a Teacher's Log with a School Date which of course is an idea coming from the Captain's Log and Star Date from the various Star Trek series.

In this, my aim is to boldly write about what my thoughts are in my teaching experiences without naming names or specific circumstances, but to reflect about what my experiences are, coming from my side, the teacher's side. They will be my thoughts and it is a way to shed light on the subject of teaching. It is a form of journal writing without bringing specific names or places into it. If by some chance someone 'sees' themselves in these writings, well, it might be interesting for them! On the other hand, it is important to note that it might not be 'them.' At the same time, they might see something about themselves in it. I will try to write in general terms even though the writings will certainly be inspired from real everyday situations that arise in my teaching life.

As I told a group of students the other day on the first day of school, I see each one of them as 'an ocean of possibilities.' Those are my true feelings. So from that standpoint and knowing that each student has their own unique journey, I will boldly attempt to write my thoughts down as often as I can about the actual day to day happenings in the Bolter studio.

Monday, September 5, 2011

FBSMC 3, Video 11, Life Companion-Personal Art

This is the last video closing off the 2011 season of the Frequency Bone Summer Music Connection 3. I hope for those of you who are interested in the vast territory of Personal Art, that these videos and contemplations will help spark more of the flame of life art that is already in you, known or yet to be discovered.

In this video 11 called "Life Companion-Personal Art", I demonstrate how I apply my Personal Art into different styles of music having made them all personal to me. From that personal place, I feel there is a more potent communication that can touch on the personal life of another.

Quest on, enjoy and discover!