- an engaged brain
- a little time each day
- a lot of restraint
Here's how I mix those ingredients for each of my practice sessions that lead up to a performance.
1. Figuring out how much time I have to spend on the piece in question: This step may seem optional but in my opinion, it really isn't. As I have been mentioning throughout this series, I feel it is crucial to take take luck and randomness out of our practice. Especially when I am running short on time, it is very tempting for me to just sit down and dive in, without any sort of plan. But when I do this, more often than not I end up practicing sections that I really don't need to practice, avoiding the hardest passages, and play too quickly, making many mistakes that don't get corrected. This may feel all right at the time, but then when I get to the performance, it becomes painfully obvious which sections I had conveniently forgotten during those practice sessions. Knowing how much time I actually have to practice helps me structure my time so that I don't end up on that road to Las Vegas, gambling my precious practice time away.
2. Review what happened the previous day: After I know how much time I'm dealing with, I then try and recall how things went the previous day, either during my practice session or at a rehearsal. Any problem spots are immediately put at the top of my mental list because if I don't address them sooner rather than later, I am bound to forget that they are a problem until the next time I play that section. And since I don't practice every note of a piece every day, that means I could go days without touching on a spot that is bound to be an issue sometime in the future. Sometimes this step can be a bit on the painful side for me because it makes me face my weaknesses - that' s not usually conducive to happy, confident feelings. In the end, however, it is so worthwhile. The pride and confidence that I feel when I consistently nail what once was a problem spot, is truly priceless, energizing future practice sessions, rehearsals and performances.
3. Practice the problem spots first, followed by the sections I have marked as being spots that simply need a lot of careful, mindful repetition: I practice these spots first by analyzing what the problem is...is it a bad fingering or bowing? Am I not really sure of the notes or rhythms? Am I playing it too fast for where I am with the passage? I then play the passage as slowly as I need to in order to play in rhythm, smoothly, musically, without my brain or body panicking in any way. If I am playing and I make a mistake or my brain seizes up, I immediately stop, back up, and start again at an even slower tempo. Once it's comfortable, I repeat it at the same tempo several times. If I can do it three times in a row perfectly, then, and only then, do I bump up the tempo. Eventually I hit a wall that I can't get past and that's normal. I simply know that I've reached my limit for the day. There are times when I don't get a piece up to performance tempo until a week before. The most important thing is to practice in such a way that I virtually never make the same mistake twice in a row. If this happens, I know I'm doing something wrong.
4. If a performance is right around the corner, practice performing: If I have finished going through all of my trouble spots, I will spend a little bit of time playing through longer portions of the piece with the mindset that I'm performing. Now it's important to note that I don't do this with the panic and adrenaline that often comes with performing. I strive for the opposite instead. I make sure that my mind is calm, that I'm singing the music in my head, that I'm engaged with what I am doing in a positive way. Just as repetition is important in order to learn notes, I feel that repeatedly playing the music with expression and a healthy state-of-mind is habit forming. If I can build it into my music-making at home, it's more likely to be there on its own during a performance.
So there you have it...this is how I will practice the Lukas Foss Capriccio this week, probably through Wednesday. Stay tuned to find out what I do differently with my practicing in the days right before the performance. You may be surprised! Sometimes I even surprise myself ;-)
Previous posts in this series:
Subsequent post in this series:
Project Capriccio-final act! a.k.a. Ignorance is bliss