“To get to authenticity, you really keep going down to the bone, to the honesty and the inevitability of something.”
–Meredith Monk, singer and composer
The Musician’s Way, p. 19
A music student performs a new piece, but numerous things go awry – technical glitches, rhythmic hiccups, memory slips.
He’s puzzled because he believed that he had practiced the music thoroughly.
What’s the student missing?
Although performance problems can stem from many causes, including anxiety and a lack of practice skills, they also occur when musicians aren’t honest with themselves.
That is, when the musicians know how to prepare for concerts but don’t face up to all of the detailed problems that need to be solved if they’re to perform at their best.
I believe that honesty is essential to creativity, so here are 4 ways I’ve found that help rising musicians practice honestly.
Four Ways to Practice Honestly
Honest noticing involves calm awareness. We might play or sing an excerpt at a manageable tempo, and coolly observe whether our execution meets our standards.
With our senses alert and minds open, we register whether our lines flow or are marred by interruptions. We detect everything.
An honest approach to practice allows us to accept errors and difficulties rather than dread them.
We can then solve problems without physical or emotional tension.
Practice is endlessly fascinating because it involves coming in contact with new repertoire and the leading edge of our abilities.
By noticing and accepting, we can let go of worry and explore problems and expressive possibilities with gusto, much like we’d take pleasure in touring a scenic landscape.
It’s hard to imagine a device more honest than a recorder. By recording ourselves and then objectively evaluating our recordings, we can be sure that we’ll shine on stage.
Recommended Audio Recorders: Zoom H4n | Zoom H2n | Tascam DR-22WL
In my own practice, I record both small sections and complete practice performances. I jot notes as I listen back, and then, in subsequent practice sessions, I enjoy refining my playing.
Part I of The Musician’s Way abounds with strategies that boost honesty and authenticity in practice.
Awareness, focus, concentration
Self-evaluation: The key to artful practice
© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Thanks, Lisa. Like you, I’ve met numerous aspiring performers who are hampered by their early music education.
Fortunately, music performance instruction is evolving, and I hope that, in the future, the negative early learning experiences that you refer to will become less and less common.
As a teacher and performer of music, I just wanted to say how refreshing it is to read blogs from like minded people in the field. I feel that the aspects of music you address need to be taught from an early age as I encounter so many adult learners who have been damaged by negative music learning experiences. I too, feel that recording is such a good way to refine technique and this was a big part of my learning experience.
Thanks, Laura, for the insightful comments.
On reflection, the four ways don’t necessarily have to be four steps, in sequential order, but for some reason they spoke to me in that way! thanks again.
I really like how you spelled out these four steps. The first two are the hardest in terms of self-awareness, and the third step requires some strategies to dig in and solve problems we’re having. I like your suggestion to explore new challenges with “honest gusto” and an open mind to find new ways to solve difficult passages. A former mentor of mine used to say, “it’s all games” and I liked this because it encouraged us to seek out diverse, even fun! ways to solve problems in our rep. And then the last step, record, is a great assessment, and then we can start the process over again, going through the four steps. Very useful, and a nice way to frame the work we do, as both performers and teachers.
Thanks for another great post!