Yesterday wasn't such a great day but as one of my twitter friends predicted, I'm back in the saddle again today. I'm not surprised...we all have down days, even when we think we're doing everything right! That may sound like a trivial comment; everyone knows this simple fact of life. But it never ceases to amaze me how shocked I am, horrified even, when I'm on one of those off-days. I think many musicians, young and old, react in the same way. We are perfectionists, after all...that's what makes us good at what we do. But there are times to let go of the perfectionism and off-days, in my book, are one of those times. (Performing is the other time it's good to let go...my post, "A call for a movement among classical musicians," talks about my not-so-quiet perspective on the topic.) In fact, I dare say that on off-days it is actually better to stop and walk away from a practice session rather than risk incorporating bad habits and a bad mind-set into your music. Mindful, engaged repetition can be good - it builds those connections in the brain. But when incorrect fingerings, bowings, notes, rhythms are part of the repetition, it can be fatal in a performance situation...those mistakes might just happen to be what your mind chooses to recall.
Here are some things I try to do when things aren't going well...
- I immediately stop and try to figure out what's going on before I make any more mistakes. Am I hungry? Thinking about a chore that I should have done before practicing? Annoyed that my fingernails are too long? Wanting a jelly bean? If I can identify the issue, than I fix the problem and try practicing again.
- If I can't solve the problem, I take a break.
- If after taking a break, I still can't concentrate, I immediately stop again, possibly for the entire day! I know this sounds risky, but I feel that I can't afford to practice incorrectly. If I really feel I need to just put time in at the instrument, I will choose to play some old literature or sight-read something new.
- Don't beat myself up over it and move on! I am human, after all ;-)
All right. It's time to get back to my project and what I did today with the Capriccio.
First off, I should tell you that today is another very busy day for me so I knew that I would only have one hour to work on the Foss piece. Although I realize I can't know exactly how my day is going to go and I am like anyone else and have odd things pop up and interfere with my schedule, I make a point of deciding when and how much I am going to practice, being sure to be realistic so that it would be virtually impossible for me not to succeed. (Remember, repeated successes are crucial in my method of practicing!) When I have a day in which I'm short for time, I am even more careful about how I follow my practice plan - I have certain steps I make sure I follow and then there are those that I put aside, saving them for another time. Here's how I decided to structure today's one-hour session:
- 9:00-9:30 Review material learned the previous day, still working backwards through the music. Because of time restraints, I do not link musical chunks, I simply review each chunk, one at a time. For example, I started with musical chunk #12 and once played accurately, I studied musical chunk #13. On days when I have a lot of time, I would then play chunk #12 connected to #13. After that I would study musical chunk #14. Once accurate, I would play #14 connected to #13 connected to #12. This can take some time. Today I just worked on #12...then #13...then #14, not bothering to link them although I often play the first few notes of the next chunk since transitions can be tricky.
- 9:30-10:00 Learn new material, using steps 3 and 4 that I discussed the first day. Click here to get to that post.
This plan was really easy for me to stick to which made me feel great! What made me feel even better is that when I got to the end of the section I had marked for today, I glanced at the next day's section and realized that it was all material I had previously learned, fingerings, bowings, and all. This means that I have now learned the entire Capriccio well before my deadline which was originally Monday. I also had 10 minutes to spare at the end so I used that time to do some drilling of passages that I have marked with the "*"s and arrows. A side-note here: this is why marking those sections clearly can be so valuable. I didn't have to take the time to figure out what passages could use extra practicing. When they are marked, I can easily pick them out and get to work, which I did. By 10am, I felt like I was on top of the world again. Attainable goals and success are invaluable and conducive to encouraging practice sessions! I am excited to practice again - what could be bad about that?
One final thought about today. Once I've worked on a new piece for several days, I make a point of making a lot of musical and technical decisions about the music. When I am reviewing a section chunk by chunk, I make sure that I stop whenever I hit a glitch. I then take time to really ask myself what's going on. If I think it's a fingering issue and that I could probably find a better fingering, I take the time then and there to figure it out and write the result in my music. Sometimes it's a physical issue that can be helped simply by analyzing how I can get from one place on the cello to another, more easily and with better accuracy. Other times the problem is that I don't really understand what's going on and all it takes is realizing, "Oh, this is just a g-harmonic minor scale." The main point here, is that I don't just keep repeating a problem passage over and over again until I "hit the jackpot" - that would be random practicing (you can read about my thoughts about this in my post "Learning to 'Leave Las Vegas' when it comes to practicing.") and I don't believe in this type of practicing. I don't have time for this type of practicing and I don't believe most people do. I also make a point of reading each and every musical marking while I'm reviewing chunks and I begin the process of making musical decisions and trying out different options. I believe it's important to incorporate musicality from the get-go since often times, being able to carry out those musical decisions requires a certain technique, a particular fingering or bowing.
Enough food for thought for today? I imagine so. I'd love to know if anyone reading my blog is actually trying to learn a new piece along with me, following some of my suggestions. Sometimes I feel a bit alone and crazy when it comes to practicing. It would make my heart happy to know that perhaps I'm not so alone after all!
Have a great weekend...and stay tuned for even more practice tips!
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