testing the limits

Rip Tide

Warmup – chromatic runs, 3rds, 4ths, TTs, 5ths

Mm. 119-end –  ran thru 2x at 100bpm; worked short and long sections, then ran all, at 105bpm; worked short and long sections, then ran all at 110bpm. Tempos are increasing daily, and without physical/mental tension!! Tried running all of this at 125bpm… just for fun. It wasn’t too bad.

Mm. 43-118 – ran thru 2x at 110bpm. I need to keep working at this tempo today, because I am tensing up both physically and mentally. Really, I just got distracted, and my awareness ceased to resolve tensions before they happened, and defaulted to realizing tension after it was occurring. Then judgement of self came in. So, rather than pushing it, I decided to stick at that tempo, and not work on this much longer today.

Surface Drifts

Just did some basic DV, SI, SA exercises, and didn’t actually get back to the instrument today.


playing games ;-)

Again today, I am working on practicing in shorter segments.

Surface Drifts

Warmup – basic SI, DV, SA exercises

Mm. 56-60 (5s) – worked hands separate and together memorized. The last time I really worked these measures with the metronome (almost a month ago), I was at 70bpm hands separate, 40bpm hands together. Today, everything is slower – 60bpm hands separate, 35-40bpm hands together – this is as a whole phrase; shorter fragments of the phrase can be played faster.

Mm. 61-92 – worked DV (alt) chords at 80bpm

Mm. 93-end – worked DV (alt) chords around 80bpm… I am really starting to hear the harmonies, and the swells, sing with this approach. Soon, I will make a new recording of this for Michael.

Mm. 1-14 – worked memory; tempo approx. 50bpm (about the same as where I ended the last time I worked heavily on pushing tempo here).


Rip Tide

Mm. 119-end is currently at about 100bpm; Mm. 30-118 is currently at about 115bpm; Mm. 1-29 is at 130bpm.

My goal for the next 2-4 weeks is to get everything at 130bpm (mallets only) and to integrate the cymbals and bass drum at 100bpm throughout…then make recordings of each, and explore mallet/stick options.

Mm. 119-end – played at 110bpm (not bad), then at 130bpm (of course, not great at all, but I had to check), then worked for a whileit at 105bpm (great!!!); then, just for fun, I tried it at 130bpm again (kinda horrrible, but definitely way better than my first try at 130bpm today.) 😉





a new way to practice

One of my goals these next few weeks/months is to take a new approach to practice, basically practice a different kind of practicing…. what I need to do is learn to be more productive in shorter time spans, and to be able to ‘get into the zone’ more quickly. I know that when the fall semester starts, I will not be able to regularly practice for even 2 hour blocks during the weekdays. Being able to utilize 30-45 minute breaks between classes to practice will definitely help my overall practice productivity. And, basically, I need to just ALWAYS be living in the mental space where practice is on my mind. (I have a tendency to allow teaching – and all the committee work that goes along with university teaching – to infiltrate and take over ALL of my mental spaces. It has become evident to me over that past few years that that approach does not work for me. My humanity, my existence, my person is more whole, more alive and more creative when practicing my art is at the forefront of my daily life.)

So, what you see below is the composite result of numerous 30-45 minute practice sessions through out the day.

Rip Tide

Warmup – started practice with stiff leg deadlifts (they seem to get my legs in the right mind to balance evenly on all parts of feet); chromatic and diatonic exercises

Improv – improvised around in blues scales, working on reaching to the farthest ranges of the instrument while maintaining focus on shoulder positioning and overall posture.

Mm. 119-end – determining max tempos; mm. 119-end in sections, and as a whole at 100bpm. All passages are getting physically and mentally easier/faster each time!

Surface Drifts

Warmup – DV, SA, SI exercises

Mm. 93-end – worked through with DV block chords and DV (alternating) rolls.

Mm. 56-61 (5s) – hands separate and together (from memory)

Mm. 40-93 – read through several times

the last few days…

This post is a bit late, but I need to make note of the music I was working on at the end of last week. So, Thursday and Friday (May 18-19) I went to Bard College to talk score and do some sample sound recording for the electronic aspects of the piece Matt Sargent is writing for me to play on the gongs I brought home from West Sumatra a few years ago. We recorded about 120 minutes of samples from the gongs themselves, just grabbing tones off each pitch being played by different implements (bows, chopsticks, rubber ball mallets, chains, etc.). We also recorded a few snapshot motives that much of his piece is derived from. We had the chance to talk in depth about the form of the piece, and his inspiration, particularly the process of layering the different voices. We came out of the session having chosen the eight approximate gong pitches. My homework is to find eight distinctly pitched bells, chimes, or other metals with similarly lengthy resonance, that can be struck (the piece is for 8 gongs, and 8 other metals).

Also of note this week, though unrelated to any project I am currently working on… I received a solo percussion score in the mail from composer Alison Nowak. I met her a few weeks ago – she is the aunt of my dear friend Rhea Nowak – and found out that she wrote a piece for solo percussion (1974), for marimba, vibraphone and a set of graduated ‘non’-pitched percussion instruments. It looks like a very challenging piece, but I am very interested in programming in on my next solo recital. 😉

Finally, I have been spending some time with both Rip Tide and Surface Drifts… not logging it here, though, because I have only been doing several 10-15 minutes practice sessions throughout the days. Most of my work continues to be on myself (my posture, my stance, my tension, etc.), while I am playing the piece. HOWEVER, I did set up the cymbals around the marimba for Rip Tide…so now the entire piece is set up. While I am running about 100-130bpm with just the mallet parts, and sometimes the BD, I have been working on simply integrating the eye movement to see the cymbal line notated above the marimba on the sheet music. I do not think it will be a monumental task when I finally start integrating them into my playing of the piece. I do, however, know that choosing the best mallets to work well at the low end of the marimba AND on the cymbals will take some time. I do not want to have to play this with four mallets in order to get the right articulation out of all instruments involved… but, that may be necessary.


knowing when to stop

Rip Tide

Warmup/AT focus – gliding and crab walking up and down the instrument – playing chromatic scales, octaves, arpeggios – working on maintaining long spine, while moving lower body and arms simultaneously

Mm. 1-93  – read thru all two times without metronome… accurate and attention to spine was consistent, arms flowed freely; tempos around max tempos indicated in score

Mm. 94-118 – worked through numerous repetitions, determined max tempos now indicated in score – spine check =good!!

Started working on mm. 119-end, but felt tension and misuse of shoulders creeping in, and inability to maintain awareness (especially without judgement) on spine while playing… so I stopped practicing, and called it quits for the day.

I am going out of town this afternoon, otherwise, I would try to come back later in the day. Even though I only practiced about 1.5 hours, and only worked on small sections of the music, this feels like a really good practice day!! 😉

maintaining intention

Surface Drifts

Mm. 1-39 – read through, gesture-by-gesture, slowly

Worked on first three gestures (all page 1), focusing on lengthening the spine (AT); worked in 10-15 minutes increments only, with AT work in between (either laying, sitting, standing, or monkey pose), not pushing the tempo at all, not thinking about musical elements, but really trying to move to notes using arms effectively, without straining neck, or misusing the shoulders. It may be that working through each gesture one-by-one like this will allow my brain will be able to teach my arms to naturally play like this. Each gesture gradually gets longer, so the intent must remain longer. Also, these gestures contain a lot of upper and lower body movement, so maintaining intention with spine is challenging. I find myself thinking about how slow this feels (slow progress, I mean), and try to remind myself that it is important to recognize that this is where I am in the process.  The fact is, I am really trying to change my physical and mental approach to the instrument – not just learning music.

Mm. 60-end – worked on playing DV block chords, maintaining long spine intention. This is easier than the beginning pages because there is much less (and slower) motion within the musical phrases.

Mn. 60-end – worked on this section with DV alternating chords, same focus as above… easier to maintain spine focus for several reasons, 1. the arms are individually moving slower, and more importantly, 2. when alternating RL it is much easier to sense the direction and stability of the spine because, in essence, my alternating arms strokes are allowing me to rotate around my spine. I should definitely start all my work on this section of the piece with some alternating DV chords.


stiff leg deadlifts and monkey pose

In addition to getting back into Alexander Technique these past few weeks, I have also started training with personal trainer – Billy Reisen – who is awesome!! Not only is he helping me identify weak areas, but he also watches my form and helps me to develop the awareness of where I should feel each exercise. He will be slowly introducing muscles that I have been completely unaware of to this point. I have already noticed a few key things from my work with him, 1. I have a tendency to over-rely on the front part of my legs (completely ignoring the hamstrings…I really noticed this after we did the stiff leg deadlifts), 2. I have much more strength in my arms when doing pushing motions, rather than pulling, and my previous technique on the rowing machines has not been correct.

So, in practice yesterday and today, I have been posturing myself as if preparing to do the stiff leg deadlift in 10-15 minute intervals while practicing… it reminds my spine to stay strong and straight and integrated with my shoulders, and reminds me to bend slightly at knees and hip joint. Interestingly, this posture is very similar to the AT “monkey pose”.

Spent about 60 minutes playing with four-mallet – in 10-15 minute intervals posturing self as if going to do stiff leg deadlifts/AT monkey pose, while doing DV, SI, and SA stroke exercises. I did not get into Surface Drifts at all, but it was good to feel relaxed just approaching the instrument simply.



“We can throw away the habit of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains.” ~F.M. Alexander

“We can throw away the habit of a lifetime in a few minutes if we use our brains.” ~F.M. Alexander


After about 45 minutes of AT work, standing and sitting at chair, I felt ready to go to the instrument with intention and direction, and a lack of judgement.

2-mallet exercises – scales with hands one- and two-octaves apart, playing in unison and in alternation; worked GH Greene exercises one hand at a time. Today, the spine feels long and the focus is good, tension at a minimum doing these exercises, though I am aware more of tension in my right shoulder than in my left.

Rip Tide

Worked section-by-section mm. 1-93 (between fermata measures, so anywhere from 4 to 12 measures in length) finding the max tempos without tension or restriction in arms and inaccurate notes. The highest max tempo is page one at 130bpm. All max tempos are indicated in the score… with the understanding that these are the max TODAY. Tomorrow they may be lower, depending on tension. Many of the tempos are up to 10-15bpm faster than before, and some are exactly the same.

At a moment when I was feeling tension growing in my shoulders, I broke into a long free improvisation with the metronome on. I really do not feel the same kind of tension anywhere in my body when I am improvising like this – my arms just seem to flow like they are moving through water, even though the motions are dynamic, sporadic, sometimes fast, etc. THIS IS HOW I THINK I SHOULD FEEL ALL THE TIME. However, my mind seems to make a distinction between playing written notes, and improvising. I don’t think this is uncommon, but I think this is exactly what F.M. Alexander was talking about with the quote I referenced above (about using the brain to change habits), and what I mentioned a few posts ago (about the power of the imagination to change things).

Tomorrow – Work section-by-section mm. 94-end finding the max tempos

Surface Drifts

Warmup – DV block chords and DV alternating exercises; SI/SA exercises

Mm. 60-end – worked through several variations, including completely DV block chords, completely DV alternating rolls, and combinations of both in various places… now that the composer has indicated his preference for the DV chords over the SA rolls, I am playing with how to execute variations with that musically, so he can hear more nuanced possibilities.

M. 53, mm. 56-60, m. 72 – 5s, worked hands separately (no metronome)

Tomorrow – Work mm. 1-53 in Surface Drifts (re-establish memory)

paint brushes and energy spaces


Worked Alexander Technique with two-mallets at marimba; scale, arpeggio, and interval exercises;free and chordal improvisation – I actually improvised on/with the apple tree outside the window of my practice room. 😉 During each exercise, I am reciting: breath, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck – trying to develop awareness on notes in addition to multiple body parts simultaneously. I am also imagining my mallets as paint brushes moving through the energy space in front of me, and over the instrument.

Rip Tide

Working with medium hard Mike Balter mallets today – I will need to use at least this hardness to get articulation out of the cymbals that are mounted around the marimba. With these mallets, I definitely need to start practicing with ear plugs.

Pages 3-5 – hands separate (focus on AT concepts above) at 140bpm; hands together at 100bpm

Pages 6-9 – hands separate at 140bpm; hands together at 105bpm

Pages 9-end – hands separate at 140bpm; hands together at 105bpm

Ran all – hands together at 105bpm (about 80% accuracy at this tempo, and tension not too present, though still there)

*Need to continue working problem spots, but with more focus on the transitions into them.

Surface Drifts

Warmup – SA, SI, DV exercises (focus on AT concepts above)

Read through everything (tried to play lightly, did notice tension throughout at various points)


A less negative term for problem spots???

Again, it has been about a week since my last practice post. I have been working on Alexander Technique, basic exercises on the marimba and pad, and working through orchestra music for upcoming gig.

This week, I want to play through both Rip Tide and Surface Drifts, with hands separate and together, focusing on maintaining bounce in arms (Alexander Technique thinking…). I am trying to stick with the idea of directing my hands/arms in a loose and free way while also focusing on playing accurate notes with good tone. Trying to not let the focus on notes mean that I can’t also be aware of my movement.

Rip Tide

Played through all (from end to beginning) without metronome, but around 100bpm… able to play hands together fairly well, while maintaining loose/bouncy arms. The concept of thinking about loose/bouncy arms is taken from the AT book I mentioned a few posts ago, Indirect Procedures… more specifically, thinking about arms as being supported below by a large, bouncy rubber ball, and from above by a stretchy rubber band. As the author says, ‘The imagination is the most powerful thing in the world.”

Continued by working on problem spots only, at appropriate metronome markings (as identified in previous posts). If I can make the problem spots loose, then I think all will be loose. And, perhaps I should stop calling them problem spots… .maybe it’s all in my head. If these are no longer problem spots… what should I call them?

Off to load instrument for rehearsal… May the fourth be with you 😉