Practice: From the Hip

625034_mTwo kinds of practicing

When working on a passage of music, it seems like there can be two different mental states we can assume. The first, a focused, precise, detail-oriented one, is probably the typical one we think of when we think of the idea of “practice.” Indeed, this is the kind of concentration we cultivate when learning new things, and it is very effective. Within this state, many of the principles we discussed in our previous series on practice are employed, such as repetition, isolating problems, correcting technical issues and strengthening our muscle memory.

There is, however, another kind of practice that is absolutely necessary for getting our music performance-ready. I call this “from the hip.” In this mode, we experiment with what happens when we just “go” and play as if we were comfortable and confident. (even though we probably aren’t) In this state, we are cultivating flow and confidence, but more importantly, we are learning what happens when we “let go” a bit.

Of course, what happens when we do “lower our guard” is all kinds of mistakes, possibly even a complete train-wreck. While this seems like a losing proposition, it is not. The reason it is useful is that the nature of the mistakes we make in this mind-state will completely different than those we make during concentrated practice. This information about what our hands “want to do” versus what we need them to do is enormously valuable.

It’s also important to realize that this flow-state is much more akin to a live performance than the meticulous, thoughtful practice mode. We must spend time in this area to be prepared.

Meet in the middle

Once we develop our ability to practice in these two ways, it’s important to learn how to use them together to make our playing both accurate and confident. In general, the meticulous practice method needs to occupy the majority of our time, punctuated by interludes of “letting go.” This will allow us to learn the music thoroughly and correctly, but also give us a chance to experience how it feels to perform it, and learn from that experience, including the mistakes and memory-lapses that may occur.

The objective is to alternate these two approaches, eventually meeting in the middle; the different types of errors and thoughts that take place will eventually work themselves out, and we will be performance-ready.

Things to consider

  • Until the music is at least somewhat playable, there isn’t much point in attempting to “let go.” it is likely to be a mess, and we may become discouraged.
  • Playing “from the hip” is by nature imperfect, and we are looking for the pathways leading to errors, in order to redirect.
  • We perform best in the flow-state. Practicing only in a meticulous way will not preview that experience, so new unexpected mistakes will be “lurking.”
  • The flow-state is not to be confused with daydreaming or spacing out. It is rather a way of being “in the moment” in a relaxed, confident way.
  • The goal of all this is to bring the two approaches toward each other, eventually leading to both control and relaxed confidence.


The Composition Process – Live Online Class

RH Composition Website Graphic











Do you find yourself getting “stuck” when you are composing? Not producing the work you would like? These are the issues we will discuss in this live online class.

We will look at the natural flow of a creative process, along with the ways this healthy routine can get stalled. No matter the style of type of music you choose to create, this set of tools and habits can be used to get things moving forward.

Topics include:

  • Understanding the natural routine of creative work
  • Knowing when to introduce new ideas and when to develop existing ones
  • Using models and influences appropriately
  • Common misconceptions about creativity
  • Why our work gets stalled
  • Typical pitfalls and trouble spots in workflow
  • Systems and routines to stay productive
  • Q&A session

The class will be held Monday, August 14th at 9pm EST. (6pm Pacific) for one hour. The introductory price of this class is $19. (future classes will be priced at $49.

The Composition Process - Online Class
The Composition Process - Online Class
A live online class on the composition process, focusing on strategies and routines to increase productivity and quality, while avoiding creative block and other issues.
Price: $49.00
Price: $19.00



  1. Upon purchase, you will receive an email with a link to register for the class. The link to register will generate another email with your link to enter the class.
  2. On a web browser, the link will prompt you to download the Zoom software, allowing live video and chat. This software will not harm your computer.
  3. If you wish to take the class on an IOS or Android device, you will need to download the free Zoom Cloud Meetings app.
  4. Once the meeting time arrives, you can log in using the link, and we will proceed.
  5. To ask questions, open the “chat” window and type your questions. (If your computer has opened Zoom as full-screen, the chat window will float above the video; click “exit full-screen” in the upper right corner and the chat window will be a separate pane.
  6. Feel free to join the FaceBook study group at

Class rules:

  1. Please do not record or redistribute the class or the materials from the class.
  2. Only the person who registered can participate.
  3. Questions may be submitted throughout, but please save more elaborate questions for the Q&A at the end.
  4. Self-promotion will not be allowed in the class.

Using a cheap computer mic with your audio gear


In order to do lessons on Skype or other video-chats, I need to pipe the sound of my grand piano, sequencer and other computer audio signals to the computer. For this, I use my MOTU interface and various preamps. I also need a headset mic/headphone so I can hear the other person, without putting their voice through the speakers (internet feedback/echo.) While there are high-quality head-worn microphones, I don’t think it is necessary for me to spend that much just for my voice in lessons.

Cheap computer headsets are everywhere, but with my setup, I need the signal to go through an XLR mic preamp, so I can include it along with the other audio going to the client. These headsets have an 1/8-inch plug designed for computer sound-cards. Upon doing some research, I found that these microphones require about 5v of bias power, delivered to the “ring” or middle conductor of the plug, with signal on the tip, ground on the sleeve.

The above picture  shows an adaptor I made with some soldering. I “sacrificed” a USB cord, which when plugged in to a phone-charging adaptor can deliver the 5v power. I then wired the signal to pin 2 of an XLR plug, while grounding pin 3. (“floating” pin 3 can invite RF interference, as the wire can act as an ungrounded antenna) A 22k current-limiting resistor was added between the power and the plug. (this may or may not have been necessary.)

Now, I can use the cheap, crappy headset mic with my otherwise decent audio rig!

Product Review: Waves Electric 88



As a keyboardist with a lifelong love-affair with the Rhodes electric piano, I’m always intrigued by new virtual instruments simulating that classic sound. The one I use most of the time I bought many years ago from a developer called Scarbee, and I have been pretty happy with it. (Scarbee products have been subsumed into the Native Instruments product line, and I assume those samples are still part of the “Komplete” collection.) When Waves came out with their version at an introductory price of $39, I decided to take a risk and order it.
Continue Reading…

Musings on Composition and “Thing-hood”

14123870 - red autumn leaf oak isolated on white background

When does something start being a “thing?” When writing music, I find this transition to be a very important moment, a bit like a birth. When a piece achieves “thing-hood,” it now occupies a new place in my mind. Continue Reading…

Problems with Digital Piano Reproduction Live















Recently I played a gig where, for space purposes, I plugged my keyboard into a small PA system, along with the vocalist. The venue was very small, and there was no need or room for large speakers, and the volume would be low. This small PA did a decent job of making the singer sound good, but the piano sounded terrible. (at least to me) On this gig, it certainly wasn’t worth trying to fix the sound, but it brought up issues I constantly struggle with using a digital piano live.

Continue Reading…

Two Computers











Working on orchestra or other large-ensemble music using a sequencer can be very taxing on a computer system in terms of processor power, memory and disk usage.

Continue Reading…

The End of the Artist

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 5.21.37 PM


What are the factors needed to make art? or, more importantly, good art?
Continue Reading…

The Big Lie, Part II











Content is King

…like this random rainbow dashboard picture. Publish articles, release free music, make YouTube videos. This is how we build our “tribe” and create “engagement,” thus building our “brand” and setting ourselves up for prosperity. I discussed the other Big Lie in a previous post.

Continue Reading…

Obfuscation through Pedanticism











Ever find yourself in a conversation with some people who suddenly switch to another language to talk to each other? While certainly a bit rude, there are a couple reasons why they might have done this: They may be more fluent in that language, perhaps needing to get to the point quickly, or were at a loss for words in English, but more likely, they didn’t want you to know what they were saying. This is the same reason parents “spell” words around their toddlers: “Do you think we could get some I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M after dinner?” Continue Reading…

Page 1 of 912345»...Last »