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Muscle Memory Lowers Stress!

Hollywood composer and violist Stefan L. Smith shares insights on the importance of rhythm and practicing with the metronome.

Inspiration by Metronome Online with

ARTIST FEATURE: From writing for Chicago Sinfonietta, playing on The Voice and Glee, to directing the Metropolis Chamber Musicians, meet Stefan L. Smith – violist, composer, entrepreneur. Here’s a few pointers from him on how to practice rhythm!

1) How do you practice your rhythm and sense of time?

If it’s a section that has complex rhythms, I like to focus on sub-dividing all passage work audibly (In the bow hand) at a slower tempo. Also, setting a metronome to a doubled, tripled, or quadrupled audible subdivision works extremely well in guaranteeing good timing throughout.

2) What are your favorite rhythmic exercises?

As a string player, many of us are trained to practice passage work in rhythms. I start with rhythm A and read my music from left to right using only that rhythm. Then I repeat the pass again using rhythm B, then C, then D, etc. By the time I’ve reached letter F, I can usually play the problematic passage proficiently:

A. One Eighth Note + Two 16ths
B. Two 16ths + One Eighth Note
C. Triplets
D. Sixteenths
E. Sextuplets
F. As written

Tips: Set your metronome to a tempo that allows you to execute the passage well from the start (this may be much slower than performance tempo, and that’s okay).

Take that practice tempo and lower it by 10, and that will be your foundation tempo. Practice the rhythm sequences slowly then increase the tempo using the same exercises to build proficiency and endurance. You should be able to play this in your sleep after doing all of this lol.

"I like to read problematic passages backwards, from Right to Left!"

3) What exotic rhythms do you like and what can we learn from it?

Besides doing the above, I also like to read the problem passage from Right to Left, using the same rhythms from above (starting from the last pitch of the passage, and reading backwards to the beginning of the passage). This will freak you out at first, but you’ll notice a huge improvement when going back to read the material as written.

By using these rhythms (both forward and backwards with the written pitches), you will train your hands to react without necessarily having to read each individual note in the long run. Muscle memory is the most crucial aspect of having a great performance. Not to mention it lowers your stress when it counts, because you’ve done all of the hard work ahead of time.

4) Can you name one thing that you like about the metronome on metronomeonline.com?

I actually used this site quite frequently when I was younger. It was invaluable to me, because I had a horrible habit of forgetting my metronome in a practice room. We know that’s as good as gone lol. So, this website made it easy to just go online, set my tempo and start practicing. I still use it occasionally for a quick reference while composing or practicing.

VIDEO: Have you ever wondered what a score to Mozart’s Concertante looks like? How about the viola section? Check it out!

Muscle Memory Lowers Stress!

Stefan L Smith

Stefan L. Smith was born in Joliet, IL. Since moving to Los Angeles in 2008, Stefan studied at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music on a full tuition scholarship for a Masters Degree in Viola Performance with Professor Donald McInnes. His two Bachelors of Music Cum Laude degrees are in Viola Performance and Music Composition from DePaul University’s School of Music in Chicago.

In LA, Stefan has branched into composition avenues of concert music, film/TV and video game music, pop and R&B song writing, as well as extensive professional symphonic playing. Stefan has been principal violist of the Dream Orchestra, South East Symphony Orchestra, Torrance Symphony Orchestra, Glendale Philharmonic, USC Symphony Orchestra, Center Stage Opera Orchestra, Henry Mancini Institute Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, DePaul Symphony Orchestra, Oistrach Chamber Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), and many others in the Chicago area. He is also a sought after violist in the film industry as well as for film/TV projects such as Modern Family, The Voice, Glee, 90210, and the BET Awards. In 2013, Stefan was appointed to the Viola Section of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Stefan is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Award of Merit at the National Fine Arts Festival of 2000. In 2013, Smith was invited to the UC Berkeley Young Musicians Program Faculty where he taught Violin, Viola, and Music Composition. He is also a William Harris Lee Performing Artist who plays on a 2003 Bronek Cison and is also a former Maestro Foundation Performing Artist. He is also the artistic director of Fever Up’s “Candlelight” chamber series in Los Angeles, as well as the Metropolis Chamber Musicians.

Smith was commissioned to write a symphonic work for the Chicago Sinfonietta, which premiered at Orchestra Hall in Chicago in October of 2019. He keeps himself active as a professional lead composer for film, TV and video games and as a performer in the symphonic and recording industries of Los Angeles, CA.


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