“Gauge your sound and internal experience against the benchmarks of excellence.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 58
How can we master unfamiliar music in ways that are both soulful and efficient?
In sum, regardless of our specific practice tactics, we have to be proficient with what I define as the 3 components of deep practice: Discovery, Repetition, and Evaluation.
To begin working on a new piece, deep practicers map out a composition’s expressive and technical features, a process I term Discovery.
It’s best to explore the expressive content of a piece first so that our technical choices fit a composition’s content. Pianist Leon Fleisher concurs: “Once you have a clear musical intention, then you can set up some kind of physical choreography.” (The Musician’s Way, p. 46)
For example, after getting an overview of an entire piece, we instrumentalists might isolate a phrase and then expressively sing rhythms and melodies. Following that, we can determine fingerings, bowings and so forth that match our interpretive ideas.
We repeat segments during discovery, as a piece matures, and once we’ve learned it deeply. That is, repetition is central to our practice. And it’s crucial that we repeat accurately and expressively.
When we encounter a passage with tricky rhythms, let’s say, before playing the passage, we do well to precisely vocalize the rhythms with the aid of a metronome. Yet, as we focus on rhythmic precision, we must not repeat mechanically. Instead, we should express the rhythmic character and forward motion of each musical gesture.
“Once you have a clear musical intention, then you can set up some kind of physical choreography.” -Leon Fleisher
Next, we’d repeat the passage on our instrument at a slow tempo. After that, we’d tackle adjoining passages and then link the passages, repeating the larger chunk a time or two. As large spans of a piece feel secure, we reiterate those portions at increasingly faster tempos.
How many times should we repeat a segment of music in practice? With deep discovery, and by choosing suitably sized segments, our musical maps are so vivid that we don’t have to repeat much for passages to feel solid.
In fact, I advocate a “3-times rule:” if our mapping is thorough, a musical segment not overlong, and our tempo slow enough, it should suffice for us to do three error-free repetitions. That said, complex phrases may warrant five or more runs.
We need to remember, too, that repetition forms lasting mental pathways, so our repetitions should instill the habits of excellence that we need on stage.
Of course, we’re going to make mistakes in practice, and mistakes help us grow. But we must not repeat mistakes.
We need to keep our senses on alert, listening intently, feeling acutely, and directing our music making with soulful awareness.
“We’re going to make mistakes in practice, and mistakes help us grow. But we must not repeat mistakes.” -Gerald Klickstein
In the end, skillful discovery, repetition and evaluation enable us to learn music so deeply that we can be free on stage, opening the door to limitless artistic expression and abundant performance opportunities.
© 2014 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Alenavlad, licensed from Shutterstock.com