Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Music Sets Your Agenda

Connecting practice to performance is the challenge. Knowing how to make very nice use of the precious time we have so as to yield great shows, that is the task! Some learn this early, some late, and most never get it. (I think I fell somewhere in the latter two groups.) Don't you love it when you see and hear someone who has grasped how to practice and play? Look around. They exist. Observe, listen and learn.

I doubt there are very many players who have not had to be painstaking learners of practice discipline. The naturals still need training and maturity, so be encouraged. They were where you are, but they have moved on.

The "never get it" group spins their wheels at great speeds while all the time basically stuck in the same ditch. They sometimes experience bursts of inspiration, but only to be followed by fits of frustration. Zeal-mustering eventually looses the battle. Hate when that happens, but learn from it.

Learning to organize your work comes after trial and error. In that sense, error can be a great teacher! Failings can be our greatest wake up call. Congratulations, you have just given yourself your personalized practice agenda! As a colleague once commented, "it should be obvious what to practice next."

Let the demands of the music set your practice agenda. Take Ravel's Piano Concerto in G for instance. What's needed? A thousand repetitions, maybe two thousand? No. You'll soon loathe the piece. How about first practicing clean single, double and triple tongue patterns on shortish Clarke-like etudes? Start with diatonic patterns and proceed to include gradually greater jumps. Be able to bust in with dead on accuracy. Don't play a lot sloppy. Play a little cleanly. Daily work is not as good as daily wise work. Pretend the greats are watching and listening as you are slugging away. Will they be impressed with your approach, or will they shake their heads and proceed to the next person?

Consider the Brahms Academic Festival Overture. We don't need loud bursts of bumps and bangs. Obviously required are smooth soft lines, in tune with pure tone and chorale-like direction. Got it? Now practice accordingly. Use slower than needed speeds for control, softer than needed dynamics for control, and higher than needed range for extra control. Set your own strategy, and play with impressive musicianship. It's not brain surgery, but it requires some modest daily brain work.

The Trumpet Shall Sound from Handel's Messiah presents different but similar challenges. Before attempting to scale the heights, you must first master the low range. What does the audience expect? Givens are a pure sound, unobjectionable intonation, clean starts to all notes, and a sense that you are in control of 100% of your product. Begin to build that kind of comfort range and grow it gradually. Only go as high as you are satisfied with your results. The piccolo trumpet cannot be tamed instantly, but must be carefully trained over time. Beware and approach with care. (Paste that on your pic case.)

Don't shove "the music" aside until you've mastered all technique. Instead use the demands of the music to motivate you to master a wise daily strategy. You can go from teacher to teacher with hat in hand, or you can come up with your own brilliant approach to each piece. Get guidance, but you must ultimately figure out your own way.

If you are not the "thinking" and "organizing" type of player, just think of this. Your very own Great-Note-Monitor has just now been attached to your bell, and it is activated. It is recording and processing all of the notes you are playing. Will you be proud of the readout?

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