dramatic photo of guitarLet’s say that you’re about to practice a new piece of music: What’s your typical plan of attack?

Researchers have observed that expert and student musicians display profound differences in their approaches to learning new material, and those differences lead to huge disparities in performance quality.

Nonetheless, I’ve found that students can employ high-level practice strategies and then perform expertly.

But those practice strategies have to be learned.

Discovery, Repetition, Evaluation

Chapter 3 of The Musician’s Way, spells out a range of strategies for tackling new pieces.

The chapter starts off by defining three fundamental practice activities: discovery, repetition, and evaluation.

That is, when we pick up an unfamiliar piece, we first discover its expressive and technical ingredients; next, skillful repetition instills fluency; all the while, we evaluate the quality of our work.

To become adept practicers, then, we must develop expertise with discovery, repetition, and evaluation.

The six chapters that constitute Part I of The Musician’s Way are designed to help musicians do exactly that. Here’s a quick summary of what you’ll find in Chapter 3.

A 4-Step Path to Mastery

The process that I recommend for starting on new material comprises four steps:

Starting New Material
1. Get an overview
2. Map an interpretation
3. Map the technique
4. Execute your map

Note that I emphasize building interpretive and technical awareness before executing. My aim is to enable musicians to be precise and creative from the outset of learning.The Musician's Way book cover

Step 1: To get an overview of a piece, I propose that we establish an aural model (typically by listening to recordings), research background information, and prepare a score. Score preparation entails dividing a piece into sections, identifying difficulties, translating any text, and numbering measures.

Step 2: To map an interpretation, I apply the Principles of Artistic Interpretation detailed in Chapter 2, and I advocate expressively vocalizing rhythms.

Step 3: I provide separate guidelines for singers and instrumentalists to map the technical requirements of a composition. For instrumentalists, those strategies involve aligning fingerings, breaths, bowings, tonguings, and so forth with the interpretive map.

Step 4: With an interpretive/technical framework in place, I describe ways in which we can play or sing with ease. In particular, I discuss strategies to ensure quality and learn efficiently.

After delineating the abovementioned four steps, Chapter 3 delves into tactics for managing repetition, evaluating our work, and solving problems. The ensuing chapters of Part I delineate practice strategies to mature pieces to concert-ready level. Part II then covers performance skill development.

Ultimately, my objective is to outfit musicians with the tools they need to be independent artists who can absorb music quickly and perform fearlessly.

Preview The Musician’s Way and read reviews at Amazon.com.

© 2009 Gerald Klickstein

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