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Opus 2: Episode 2 – No Time to Practice

In this episode, we examine practicing and some important tools–both physical and mental–to make our practice more efficient and effective. Willie guides us through the history of the metronome, and all four Skyros members contribute our favorite practice tips in the technique lesson. Our special guest, Dr. Molly Gebrian, is an authority on current brain research and music–especially how we can optimize our practice for the best results.
History Segment
Willie tells the story of the invention of the musical chronometer in the history lesson. You’ll have to listen to the episode for the full story of how it came about and why the name changed to the term we all use today: the metronome.

Mälzel MetronomeThe inventor of the original musical chronometer, Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel, donated his device to the scientific institution in his hometown of Amsterdam: the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, although it was known as the Royal Institute of Science, Letters and Fine Arts in Winkel’s time). The original Winkel device is in the collection of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (the Hague Municipal Museum). The example in the photo is of an 18th century metronome by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel.

Beethoven was an early advocate for the metronome. He was fed up with imprecision of “nonsensical terms like allegro, andante, adagio, presto.” He went back and wrote metronome markings for all of his most popular works. However, modern performers are often frustrated by his markings. Overall, his metronome markings generally feel too fast. The tempos for slow movements make things feel rushed and frantic, and while many tempos for fast movements are nearly unplayable. There are so many theories as to why this is and how to use Beethoven’s markings. This is a widely discussed topic on which many musicians, historians, and scientists have offered opinions.

If you’d like to learn more about how to interpret Beethoven’s metronome markings, here are some resources to read through:

“How Fast Shall We Play?” by Martin Saving of the Elias String Quartet

“Was Beethoven’s Metronome Wrong?” published in the Smithsonian Magazine

“YES!!! We DO Play TOO FAST” by Wim Winters of Authentic Sound

Here is a piece, the “Poème symphonique” by György Ligeti for 100 metronomes!

Metronome App recommendations:

Wille’s go-to metronome app is built into the Tunable app.  It costs $3.99 and it has a great interface for both tuning and metronome, available for Apple and Android devices.

Sarah suggests the Time Guru which has a unique feature. You can set it to randomly mute it’s sound, which can also gradually increase over time, to help test your ability to keep steady when the metronome isn’t clicking. It’s $1.99 for Apple and Android devices.

And of course, there are also great physical metronomes too. It’s hard to go wrong with something like a Dr. Beat!
Technique Lesson
TCC WorksheetIn this, our Practice episode, all four of us, Sarah, Brandon, Justin, and Willie really wanted to give practice tips. Instead of the typical technique lesson, we each produced four mini-technique lessons.

  • Willie discusses practicing with a metronome.
  • Justin organizes practice sessions with the Hourglass.
  • Brandon explores fast passage work, like running sixteenth notes, by using rhythms.
  • Sarah examines a better way to practice slowly: by practicing in slow-motion!

Here is the worksheet for this episode, which is based on Justin’s lesson about the Hourglass.
Guest Interview
In the Episode 2 interview, Sarah and Justin speaks with Dr. Molly Gebrian, assistant professor of viola at the University of Arizona.

Molly GebrianMolly Gebrian has distinguished herself as an outstanding performer, teacher, and scholar throughout the US and Europe. Her love of contemporary music has led her to collaborate with many composers, often in premieres of works written for her, and she has worked closely with the Ensemble Intercontemporain and Pierre Boulez for performances at the Lucerne Festival. In 2011/2012, she spent a year in Paris to undertake an intensive study of contemporary music with the violist/composer Garth Knox. In 2010, she designed a performance project entitled “Trios for Two,” which resulted in seven brand new works for viola and piano/percussion (one player) with pianist/percussionist Danny Holt. This music has been performed in Houston and Los Angeles, and the project was recently featured in Los Angeles at REDCAT (in Walt Disney Concert Hall). In the 2016/2017 season, they toured the U.S. to celebrate the release of their Trios for Two CD on the Innova Recordings label. For more information, please see the Trios for Two page.

In addition to Garth Knox, her principal teachers have been Peter Slowik, Carol Rodland, and James Dunham. Molly completed her Doctor of Musical Arts in viola performance from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and also holds a Masters of Music and Graduate Diploma in viola performance from the New England Conservatory of Music, and Bachelors degrees from Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music, in both viola performance and neuroscience. As a teacher, she has taught recent masterclasses at Interlochen Arts Academy, Ithaca College, Lawrence University, the University of Michigan, the University of Northern Colorado, and Vanderbilt University, among others, and was invited as a guest artist/teacher/lecturer to the Polish Viola Forum in Poznan, Poland in April 2017. In addition, she has been a faculty member at the National Music Festival, Sewanee Summer Music Festival, the Montecito International Music Festival, and the International School of Stuttgart.

One of her biggest passions is understanding how people learn and experience music, which has led her to collaborate on neuroscience research with leading scientists on music and the brain. She served as the Assistant Director for two interdisciplinary conferences on music and the brain while at Rice, has published papers dealing with music and neuroscience in the Journal of the American Viola Society, Frontiers in Psychology, Flute Talk Magazine, and The Strad, and taught an honors course on music and the brain for five years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Her background in neuroscience gives her unique insight into how the brain learns and how musicians can best use this information to their advantage in the practice room. Given this expertise, she is a frequent presenter on topics having to do with music and neuroscience at conferences and at schools and universities around the country.
From 2014-2019, she taught viola, music theory, and aural skills at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Starting in the fall of 2019, she joined the faculty at the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona as Assistant Professor of Viola.

For more information about Molly, visit her website.

A page called Music and the Brain on Molly’s website with more resources and links to articles and more from Molly: Music and the Brain

The first video in a 5 part lecture series called What Musicians Can Learn from Current Brain Research:

Molly performing a chamber work with her ensemble, Trios for Two, called Second Take by Karl Blench for violin and piano/percussion:

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  1. Gennie Winkler
    Gennie Winkler October 30, 2020

    Your op. 2 episode 2 is very instructive and it raised 2 questions.

    Do you have a systematic way to use interleaved practice or “breaks” when you work together as a quartet.

    What do String players need to know about playing with woodwinds? Are there conventions for initiate a breath?

    • Sarah Pizzichemi
      Sarah Pizzichemi November 6, 2020

      Hi Gennie!

      Thank you for the questions!

      We do have ways of incorporating both interleaved and spaced practice in our quartet rehearsals, but it was more intuitive than knowledge based as Molly introduced us to those terms!! We always create a schedule that diversifies what we rehearse (we rarely only work on one piece/movement unless we are under pressure to learn something very quickly!) I think now that we know more we will try to be even more mindful of rotating what we rehearse more quickly, especially as we get closer to a performance!

      We also naturally incorporate spaced practice in two ways: we take at least 10 minutes off for every 50 minutes of rehearsal (so if we are doing a 4 hour rehearsal, it really becomes more like 3.5 with breaks in between!) We also tend to set repertoire aside after a first performance and come back to it somewhat fresh. Again, now that we know more, we will try to be more mindful about this as well!

      For us, playing with woodwinds and brass is very similar to other string players, we try to always work from our breath, even if it is only strings! We will try to address this in an upcoming episode as it is a great point! 🙂

      ~Sarah Pizzichemi

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