The Practice Notebook

flutist Zara Lawler shares tips on learning music

A Story about Metronome Trick No. 1, what a small world it is, and how the world sometimes gives you the information you need.


I started writing this blog last fall, and publishing it in December, as is probably obvious  to you if you are reading this now.  This week, I was going to post an entry on how practicing is like and not like playing video games, but since something incredible happened this weekend, you’ll have to wait to hear about video games and music practice.

It all started with the first draft of my entry on Metronome Trick No. 1. (but as you will read, it goes back even further in time than that…) Here is a paragraph that I cut from the final entry about that metronome trick:

I learned this technique the weekend I auditioned for Eastman.  I was staying with a friend of mine from high school, and his roommate, a violinist named (I think!) Tom, told me about it.  I forget the exact context of the conversation, but what I do remember is that he made it sound like no other practice technique was worth bothering with, because this one was so superior.

So, did I make an effort to track down the identity of the mystery violinist so that he could be properly credited and included in my entry?  No, I did not.  I confess it just seemed easier to cut the paragraph from the article.

But the small world of music did the job for me.  I spent the last few days at the very awesome Chamber Music America Conference where I was talking to the cool flutist Laura Barron. When she casually mentioned that she had just run into a violinist friend from Eastman 20 years ago named Tom, I did not immediately leap on that tidbit of information (I didn’t want to appear crazy, after all.)  I bided my time, and later in the conversation I asked if she knew my friend from high school, the composer Brian Schachter, with whom I had stayed lo those many years ago.  When she said she did, I knew it had to be the same Tom.

Sure enough, I got to meet him later at the conference and solved the mystery of his moniker: it turns out his last name is Stone, and he plays with the Cypress Quartet. When I told him the story, he said, “Yeah, that sounds like me.  I had pretty strong opinions when I was a teenager.”

me, contemplating the small world we live in, writing this entry on the plane after the conference.

me, contemplating the small world we live in, writing this entry on the plane after the conference.

I cannot tell you how cool it was to re-meet someone who inadvertently had such a big effect on me.  That was the only conversation I had with Tom when I was there for my audition, but I was so green, so wanting to be in music school, and to know all the things people like Tom knew, that it had a huge effect on me.  He said it with such force and conviction — I wanted to feel that confident about playing and practicing!  He just swept into the room, anointed me with his wisdom and swept out – and didn’t even know how much he affected me.

And what a pearl of wisdom it is, people.  Metronome Trick No. 1 has been my main way of practicing ever since.  Probably 75% of my practice time is spent going up two and down one on ye olde metronome.  And there he was at the conference:  Mystery Tom, from the mists of time!  Talking to me!

So, thank you, Tom Stone, for having strong opinions when you were a teenager, and for being at the CMA Conference. And thank you, world, for twice giving me information that I needed.

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