In “PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT….OR DOES IT ?” (Part I) I strongly stated my belief that the primary essential ingredient of a successful practice program is the establishment of an organized routine which provides for both logical and orderly muscular and mental warm-up as well as serving as an outline for systematic and orderly instrumental development.
Now it’s time to talk about concentration and focus…..the key elements necessary for the achievement of great results in a relatively short amount of time! I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed really conscientious, talented young string players investing hours in unproductive (sometimes even harmful) practice. I would trade one-hour of concentrated practice any day for hours of rote-styled work guided by a luke-warm mental effort. We’ve all been there. You know what I am talking about.
First, the ability to concentrate fully on the task at hand, even if only for a few minutes at a time, is worth its weight in gold. Secondly, learning how to split this focus and attention between a primary task and one or more subsidiary elements will produce amazingly effective results. Here’s an example:
While practicing exercises with a focus on shifting….don’t forget to think (at least to some extent) about bow division, bow speed, bow changes, etc. If we limit our thoughts exclusively to ONE specific technical element at a time during typical practice sessions….think of how many more minutes we potentially spend performing each task incorrectly than we do correctly!
To help students adjust to this style of practice with a minimal amount of frustration and aggravation I always suggest that if their main topic of focus at a given moment involves a task on the left-side of their bodies (ie. shifting, vibrato, etc.) then secondarily they should maintain an awareness of some major elements involving the right-side ( ie. Bow division, bow changes, etc.) I am always delighted to see how quickly most students can adapt to this extremely effective method of practice.
Now lets briefly address the rationing of total available practice time between the study of repertoire and the development of instrumental technical expertise. Even though there is no question that the proper learning of appropriate repertoire enhances one’s technical abilities on their instrument, I truly believe that a solid foundation can only be achieved through good old-fashioned “grunt work” for lack of a better description. Great literary writers typically have a solid understanding and knowledge of spelling and grammar before they are able to maximize their creative talents. As instrumentalists,we can only achieve great artistic success if we have first mastered the technical intricacies of our instruments.
For this reason, I typically expect my students to devote approximately 50% of their daily practice time to “The System” and the remaining 50% to repertoire. As with so many things in life…there are exceptions. For example: If practice time is relatively short in the days immediately preceding a performance, I have been known to advise my students to increase the repertoire percentage upwards to as much as 75-80% of their total available practice time. Note, however, that even with this adjustment we are preserving a technical practice allotment of at least 20-25%. Please believe me when I say that this really DOES make the repertoire portion of the practice time SO much more productive.
I cannot conclude a discussion of practice techniques without at least addressing “Slow Practice” and what that means to me. I have found that when I ask most string players ( irrespective of age, experience or expertise) what slow practice means to them, the answers I generally receive describe the extraction of some difficult measures or passages from their repertoire for the purpose of working these specific passages in a slow and deliberate manner. Whereas I concur as to the importance of this type of work I, personally, have broadened the definition dramatically over the years.
As a performer I realized MANY years ago the various benefits of knowing works in their entirety at numerous tempi. However, I am more convinced than ever of the importance and advantage of initially learning to perform repertoire, in its entirety, at approximately 50% of the traditional tempo. It is only at this tempo the brain can truly comprehend the myriad of intricacies that go into a masterful performance from both a musical as well as technical perspective. One will build a far greater awareness of detail through this type of slow practice than through typical in-tempo practice. As with a photographic negative…once the details are in place, it is a simple matter to reduce or enlarge the finished product. I have found that this method of repertoire practice not only gives one a much more solid grasp of the work both technically and musically in a relatively short period of time, it greatly reduces preparation time for future performances.
Well, here’s hoping that some of the opinions I have expressed in these last two blogs regarding the “Art of Practice” (according to me)…will indeed streamline your journey to Carnegie Hall! Happy Practicing!!
ALTHOUGH THE PICTURE BELOW MAY BE SLIGHTLY WEST OF CARNEGIE HALL….I THINK PERHAPS IT SENDS SOMEWHAT OF A SIMILAR MESSAGE!~