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It's hard to pick a favorite Tiny Desk Concert from the hundreds we've done, but this could be the one. For me, music is best when it surprises, takes chances and makes me smile. Comedian and musician Reggie Watts performed three "songs" at the NPR Music offices, all of them spontaneous improvisations and all of them playful, even magical.

Watts came with a simple setup of loop pedals, delay pedals and a microphone. He laid down the beats and bass, entirely with his voice, and built up layers of sound, melody and rhythm — more like a magician than a musician.

Armed with cameras and microphones, we recently invaded the rehearsal spaces of prominent musicians. The result is "In Practice," a new series of videos you can watch here.

Mindless Arcade Friday: The Grading Game

Jun 22, 2012


What: First Person Tutor: or, The Grading Game

You're a destitute graduate student with overdue student loans, and the only way to pay them back is grading papers for Dr. Paynuss, an evil professor determined to fail all his students. You earn points by finding spelling and grammar errors in their papers within a thirty-second time limit. The lower their grade, the higher your salary.

Joe Pug: 'Hymn' For A Lasting Relationship

Jun 21, 2012

A hymn is a faith song, and Joe Pug knows about faith. It was a leap of faith which moved him to quit school in pursuit of songwriting in the first place. So it's no surprise that his stirring new song "Hymn #76" balances on faith. "To love me is to set up on a mountain," he sings. "Every step is harder than the last."

Being a mariachi is a specialized gig. You might be able to fool people who don't know the music by wearing those tight pants and little jackets and playing with lots of vibrato. But hardcore mariachi fans will call you out in a minute if you try to fake it.

KCRW Presents: Ane Brun

Jun 20, 2012

During a recent video to the KCRW studios, Ane Brun danced her way through a performance of her single "Do You Remember," her hands waving in the air as if she were conducting the song.

Metric In A Non-Synthetic Situation

Jun 20, 2012

In a matter of minutes, Metric singer Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw went from rocking in front of thousands of fans on the main stage of the Sasquatch Music Festival to hiking through a rumored thicket of rattlesnakes overlooking the Columbia River. The duo gamely made the trek for an acoustic performance of "Synthetica," the title track from Metric's new record.

The four-man vocal ensemble New York Polyphony sings ancient music built for big resonant spaces. Since they can't just pop into St. Patrick's Cathedral any time they need to practice a renaissance mass, the group rehearses sometimes in the Jackson Heights home of bass singer Craig Phillips. There, in a modest-sized living room, they can hear every detail. "It's a very different experience rehearsing in a dry room and a small room," says tenor Geoffrey Silver. "You actually hear what you and your colleagues are singing, there's no watercolor wash over what you are doing."

It's tough to concentrate on the rigors of Beethoven with jackhammers pounding in your ears. So when they started demolishing the building next to Jonathan Biss, he moved his piano out of his apartment into a separate studio, away from the commotion. "I would get up in the morning, the piano wasn't there, and I had to leave my apartment to go practice and I've decided that's a much more productive way of working," he says. Biss needs a good working environment for his massive project.

Jeremy Denk has his own personal "piano boot camp." Actually, it's his cramped Manhattan apartment. Beside his beloved books, a trusty coffee pot and a laptop, there's not much to do except practice. Which Denk does, hours and hours a day on a Steinway wedged into his living room. On a good day, he brews pot of coffee number one at about 11, then plays for about five hours. Perhaps a run to the gym, then pot number two is brewed at about 6, followed by more playing — until the neighbors complain.

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