photo of cellist Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma

“Only after I have become familiar with the style and character of the work can I start shaping an interpretation.”
—Yo-Yo Ma, cellist (The Musician’s Way, p. 24)

Suppose that you’re an actor who has been hired to perform in a play.

When you receive the script, what will you do first? Will you sound out your opening word, then the second? 

Of course not.

You’ll begin by getting an overview of the story and your character.

After you’ve studied the entire script, then you can infuse your lines with fitting emotions.

Approaching a New Piece
Interpreting a piece of music entails making similar broad and deep connections.

As Chapter 3 of The Musician’s Way portrays, when we pick up a new piece, rather than first being concerned with executing and shaping the first phrase, it’s best for us to explore the mood, style, and tempo of the complete composition by listening to recordings, studying the score, and researching background information.

Advanced musicians might do read-throughs, too, but without committing to any fingerings or expressive ideas.

With a global understanding of the composition in place, then we can zero in on shaping phrases and choosing fingerings, bowings, and the like.

Pianist Leon Fleisher offers corresponding advice: “Once you have a clear musical intention, then you can set up some kind of physical choreography.” (The Musician’s Way, p.46)

See Chapter 2 of The Musician’s Way for 7 essentials of artistic interpretation that enable us to infuse life into everything we play or sing.

Related posts
5 Tips for Successful Practice
Performance-Oriented Practice
The Twin Aims of Deliberate Practice
Upgrading Your Practice Habits

© 2015 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from The Musician’s Way, p. 24

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