musings from a scholar, a performer, and a die-hard pedagogue!
This is a fantastic semester filled with music … new and not so new. I am currently preparing two recitals of differing programs. The first, taking place in October, is part of a lecture series entitled Down with Zombies: The World of the Living. As such, it contains only music of living composers: a concerto by Damian Montano, a sonata by Adrienne Albert, and a fabulous avant-garde work by Cindy McTee.
The second recital, to be performed in November, is an homage to the flute! The music is either written by flutists or for the instrument. It includes a Telemann Fantastia, a Devienne Sonata, Alex Shapiro’s Of Breath and Touch, and the Nussio Variations.
As I prepared for the term, I knew the theme of my Fall would be TIME MANAGEMENT. We often approach practicing as we do exercising: we do it fairly aimlessly and then furiously question our haphazard results. I know many of you are battling similar time management struggles with practicing, so I will outline my typical schedule for you.
WARM-UP & TUNING
Like in exercise, warming up is crucial. We use countless fine muscles in our hands, arms, abdominal cavity, thoracic cavity, embouchure, and more. Warming up draws the blood flow to these areas. Further, it focuses your mind on breathing, posture, tone, and intonation. These elements are distilled with difficult technique or phrasing. Finally, in warm-up one can assess and make adjustments to the reed.
I always warm-up. This period can last from 5-20 minutes depending on the length of my practice session. The longer sessions involve a 2-part tuning exercise.
Music, whether written in 1585 or 2014 is primarily (there are exceptions) based on patterns of pitch &/or rhythm. The more fluid I am in these domains, the more consistent my repertoire becomes. I read through the first volume of Oubradous in nearly every practice session (with a metronome). In longer sessions, I supplement this with a traditional circle of fifths scale routine. If I am short on time, I will read Scale/Arpeggio etudes in lieu of Oubradous. Again, I never skip technique management .
I begin each repertoire session by replaying the work from my previous practice one ‘click’ lower on the metronome, then at the tempo I left it. This reinforces my practicing and muscle memory. If some minor practicing needs to occur to maintain my ability, then I spend the time. If I am unable to recreate the previous practice session quickly, I make a mental note. I will return to the passage at the end of this practice session.
One should note, I do not learn “fingers” and then “music.”
Habits are easier to create than to break.
I learn the music at a tempo that allows me to play it musically from the first reading. It is easier to speed it up correctly than to insert music when muscles have already learned habits.
My goal is to have all of my music at a similar level. I am maintaining much of it currently and working most on two pieces that are new to me . It is important the familiar pieces do not atrophy, so I am careful to review the familiar works once a week.
With regard to the new works: to be effective and efficient with my time, I do not play the pieces in their entirety. I isolate large sections and work on a new section of both pieces each day. This moves the prior day’s work into the “Maintenance” of my routine.
In my isolation, I use a metronome religiously. I adore metronome games (See Blog Jan/2014), Backwards Practicing, and what I call the Transitive Property: Play Phrase A 3x with no errors. Play Phrase B 3 x with no errors. Play Phrase A + B 3x with no errors. Now Play Phrase C 3x with no errors … Moving forward: A + B + C 3x with no errors. It’s not simply if you can PLAY a lick, it’s if you can contextualize it.
I cool down by contextualizing the work I have done. I slow down the metronome and blend large sections together. It is always important to remember the larger picture.
This is also the time I will play through a “Maintenance” piece that I have performed before. These pieces need work, but in general have been in a better state (however, after great practicing, the two new works have caught up!)
I hope this gives you all some good ideas with your practicing! Off to the practice room we ALL go!