Meri’s Musical Musings

How to sound like a professional musician

Posted on: June 18, 2009

There are some people who think that the secrets to sounding good on audio and video has to do with recording software. My view is that it mostly depends on the player, because even on a limited budget, there is something about the spark of professional-quality playing that you get that you don’t get from a poorly performed piece even with the best tools.

Let me restate that: some people think sounding good is about having the right equipment. While I do believe in having good equipment, especially in terms of the instruments, I have also heard people who sound like professionals playing on so-called student grade instruments, and people who sound like beginners on professional quality instruments. The latter actually happened with a 9th grade student in an all-city symphony orchestra when I was in high school in the mid-1990s  who owned a professional-model clarinet, while at the same time having a poor sound and technique issues. I know people who have a so-called starter instrument who know how to make it shine and sparkle as if it were a good instrument.

I will now give a few hints as to how to mke yourself sound really good.

1) Develop a fine tone quality. Get noticed for your tone, because a lot of musicians play with poor or average tone quality.

2) Play the right notes. Often a piece can sound really bad because of wrong notes.

3) Play the right rhythms.

4) Especially for intermediate and advanced students, be sure your tempos are within about 4-6 beats per minute from the professional recordings. Many students play slow pieces too fast and fast pieces too slowly–one example of this is the Robert Schumann Fantasy Piece op. 73 no. 1–many students take this piece too slowly, at about 66-72 beats a minute, which sounds draggy and makes it really tough on the breath control (when plyed on clarinet–this piece is originally for cello and piano), Schumann intended it to be played around 80 beats per minute, and some professionals take it slightly faster.

5) Count your notes, and especially your rests, carefully. Often in music what you think is right is not, particularly in intermediate and advanced music, especially in pieces where the same or similar melody passes from one part to the next. This is especially true in slow pieces, and any piece that involves two or more performers.

6) Take lessons from a professional teacher. Ideally, I think this should be a teacher who both performs and teaches! At least such a teacher will know what it takes to sound good.

Using these principles when I teach, I have had student who get accepted in ensembles where only a very few out of a large number who audition get in!


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  • V V: Wish I had read this before I fell for their scheme ! Oh well - have posted my experience on Yelp and N49 and hoping others can avoid the pain of fal
  • clariniano: Thanks for the additional information. It was actually Yelp that deleted my reviews, because of so-called bias. I too have seen the horrible technique
  • No Thanks: Former Teacher at the Ontario Conservatory of Music I took lessons at the Ontario Conservatory and when I left for private lessons from another tea
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