“The purpose of technique is to free the unconscious.”
–David Mamet, playwright & director
On Directing Film, p. 6
When we acquire robust technical skills, barriers to musical expression drop away.
We internally “hear” musical gestures, and then we make those gestures ring out with a natural quality that seems effortless.
Yet despite the spiritual nature of technical mastery, I find that aspiring musicians often confuse “technique” with “mechanics.”
As a result, many students don’t develop the technical command that they need.
“When we acquire robust technical skills, barriers to musical expression drop away.”
Musical Technique Defined
Although technique incorporates mechanical skills – such as how we’d move a limb, manage airflow, or control a reed – those mechanical aspects must be developed to serve musical goals. Otherwise, from an artistic perspective, they’d be useless.
As an illustration, technically proficient violinists can gracefully move their bows to modify tone, accent, articulation, and so forth at will, according to their expressive intent.
Violinists who possess mechanical ability yet lack technical prowess might move their bows with comparable mechanical efficiency but in ways that are disconnected from musical expression.
Hence, I concisely define technique as follows: The term “technique” refers to the means for executing musical ideas.
Below is a summary of the technique-building strategies that you’ll find on pages 94-98 of The Musician’s Way.
“I find that aspiring musicians often confuse ‘technique’ with ‘mechanics.'”
Three Strategies to Build Musical Technique
1. Organize a Regimen
“The term ‘technique’ refers to the means for executing musical ideas.”
For instance, if a musician wants to advance her control in a particular register, she might gather some suitable exercises, etudes, and excerpts; she could also compose original ones.
Such regular practice is crucial because technical skills require steady nurturing if they’re to grow and remain hardy.
Even so, we need to set limits on our practice time because technical work uses select muscle groups that, if overused, could become injured.
So it’s crucial that we don’t practice any technique excessively but instead vary what we work on in practice sessions. Concurrently, we should take frequent breaks, employ balanced postures, and avoid sudden increases in total playing or singing time.
“Regular practice is crucial because technical skills require steady nurturing if they’re to grow and remain hardy.”
2. Emphasize Excellence
No less important than our practice schedule is the quality of our practice.
Deliberate, process-oriented practice gives rise to artistic and technical command; mindless repetition, by comparison, produces nothing of value.
“We need to set limits on our practice time because technical work uses select muscle groups that, if overused, could become injured.”
Every moment that we practice, therefore, we should embody Habits of Excellence, which I describe on pages 20-23 of The Musician’s Way as encompassing seven aspects: ease, expressiveness, accuracy, rhythmic vitality, beautiful tone, focused attention, and positive attitude.
When we steadfastly emphasize those seven habits, artistic excellence becomes our default setting both in practice and on stage.
3. Delve into Details
All accomplished musicians gain and maintain their technical fluency by delving into fine details of sound and execution.
For example, as we review scales and arpeggios, we should calmly notice any aspects of our execution that don’t feel or sound right and then unravel problems.
“Deliberate, process-oriented practice gives rise to artistic and technical command; mindless repetition, by comparison, produces nothing of value.”
That unraveling would entail, among other things, extracting technical ingredients and reviewing them in isolation.
Through such a deliberate refining process, creative and physical impediments melt away, and then artistic possibilities become limitless.
Preview The Musician’s Way and read reviews at Amazon.com.
© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © M. Stout Photography, licensed from Shutterstock.com