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.

Grasp the Mood, Style, and Tempo

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 being concerned with executing 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.

Map an Interpretation; Then, Map the Technique

With a global understanding of a composition in place, we can next zero in on shaping phrases and making technical decisions that fit the character and tempo of each phrase.

Pianist Leon Fleisher offers matching advice: “Once you have a clear musical intention, then you can set up some kind of physical choreography.” (TMW, p. 46)

“Once you have a clear musical intention, then you can set up some kind of physical choreography.” -Leon Fleisher

We map an interpretation, devise a corresponding technical map, and then practice deliberately to make our execution precise, expressive, and nearly effortless.The Musician's Way book cover

See Part I of The Musician’s Way for detailed practice guidelines.

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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