Tag Archives: practice

Practice? Well, Maybe Later …

David Allen, the productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done has a maxim that goes something like this:  “The more something is on your mind, the less is getting done about it.”

I guess that’s why practicing music has been on my mind so much lately.   More “thinking about” than “doing.”

A hectic work schedule, a lot of 97-degree-high-humidity summer days, and the lack of something specific to prepare for right now have combined to throw me off routine.  The piano has been getting token practice the last few weeks; the violin, almost none at all.  Yet practice is like any other discipline, like brushing your teeth or putting away your clean laundry:  you can make up excuses but – in reality – you just have to do it.

The good news is that while in Baltimore, I learned some things to make practice much more efficient.

First, if you are tired or mentally checked out, you are probably better off not to practice – or at least, not practice anything complex.   For the violin, it’s probably one of those good times to watch where your bow is engaging the string and hear the different tones you get at different pressure points and with more and less hair, bowspeed, arm weight, etc.

Second, make sure you are not trying to do too much at once.   Sometimes, in my enthusiasm for a new piece, I keep playing it all the way through, over and over, rather than breaking it down and perfecting smaller sections.  In the end, I just keep perfecting my ability to sight-read, rather than my ability to play.  Professionals approach pieces differently.   They might listen to a recording, to get a sense of what the piece is and what their part sounds like.   Then they’ll work on the rhythm, perhaps walking around or dancing a little to get the feel of the rhythm into their bones.   Then, they attack the notes.  And, as the notes become secure (and memorized), the music itself emerges, with judgments of interpretation, nuance and tone.  Only then are they playing all the way through.

A side-effect of slowing down and working on smaller segments is that you can focus on technique; chances are your difficulty is arising because the technique you are trying to use is flawed in some way.   Or, as Peter keeps reminding me at my piano lesson, no one ever learned piano technique playing hands together!

One other professional tip:  when working on a difficult run, start at the end of the phrase, playing only three notes.   Play those notes repeatedly, until you can play them flawlessly 10 times in a row.  Then pick up the three notes that come just before the three notes you’ve learned.   Now you’re playing six notes over and over, until you can play those flawlessly.  Then pick up three more notes, and so on to the beginning of the phrase.   By the time you’ve done this, you probably have the troublesome phrase memorized, and have “locked in” on the correct way it should go.

There is a side benefit of this technique for orchestra players.   At tempo, it is not unusual to get tense and lose your place in a long run of very fast notes if you are trying to read them off the page.   Perfecting the end first means that even if you do get lost in the middle of a very black set of measures, you will soon come to the place you know well, and regain your balance.

And that’s exactly what I plan to do … as soon as I fix a lemonade, lay out on the chaise, and finish that novel!

 

 

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Filed under Inspiration, Personal Journey, Tips & Techniques

BSO Academy, Day 2 (Georgeann)

A very jam-packed day in Baltimore, with six hours of playing and a whole lot of music.  Some phrases that stick in my mind from the day:

  • “Use less bow.”  From my private lesson this morning with Gregory Kuperstein, a BSO first violinist, originally from Russia, and a long-time orchestra member.
  • “In this section, it’s very noisy with drums and horns, so if you get the notes wrong, it’s not a big deal.”  GK, again, commenting on the Hindemith.  (You have to imagine the Russian accent).
  • “Balance your skull over your spine, and release your legs to the floor.”   From this morning’s class on the Alexander Technique.
  • “When you are exhausted, you start muscling through, and that’s when injuries happen.”  From this morning’s session with a physical therapist, who warned that unless a therapist specializes in musicians, they may give you the wrong treatment.
  • “Here’s a simple stretch for string players to relieve tension in your hands before and after you play.”  Advice from same physical therapist.  One hour later, therapist is mentally subjected to some choice language when stretching results in a cramp in my left hand (the one that fingers the strings) just as sectional practice is beginning.
  • “Have any of you tried playing the first violin solos in the Rimskey-Korsakov”.  In violin sectional practice. Several players start demonstrating their proficiency.  I am firmly shaking my head — isn’t the concertmaster supposed to play those and let me just do the pizzicato?
  • “In this section, it’s very noisy with drums and horns, so if you get the notes wrong, it’s not a big deal.” Igor Yuzefovich, Assistant Concertmaster leading the string sectional, commenting on the Hindemith.  He was born in Russian, but doesn’t have the accent.
  • “Each of you WILL play a violin solo in the Rimskey-Korsakov.  Expect Marin to call on you during rehearsal tomorrow.”  IY’s announcement at the end of the string sectional.  Yikes!  Where is the practice room?
  • “WE DID IT.”  Group chorus after our string quintet manages to sight-read through the entire Dvorak Quintet in G Major, before deciding to focus on the Scherzo (2nd movement) only for Friday night’s concert.

And finally,

  • “Thank goodness we decided not to stay in the dorm.”  Viola Judy and myself, as we return to our hotel room after a 12 hour day of music to freshly made beds and clean towels.  The folks staying in the dorm have been without hot water because of a malfunction, and have to get through the week using only one towel.
Tomorrow, our first full rehearsal with the musicians of the BSO and Marin Alsop.   That will be me ducking when the Rimskey-Korsakov solos are assigned!

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This and That: Music, Work, Life

First, the news.

Detroit Public Television LogoI have a new job and a new title.   Senior Vice President, Content and Community Engagement, at Detroit Public Television.   I’m working on plans to address DPTV’s five key issue areas:   Energy and Environment, Leadership, Arts & Culture, Health, and Kids/Education.   Continue reading

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Violin to Viola: Am I Crazy?

Last week, when a group of musicians gathered to play together in a friend’s living room, I learned that some of my acquaintances get together every Saturday morning and play string quartet music.   I was invited to join in, and in the process learned that the group was about to lose one of its viola players.  At 93, she’s decided she just can’t keep up any more.   Her departure is a blow, since viola players are traditionally in short supply. Continue reading

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Feedback from a Reader

If you haven’t read all the comments on this blog, then meet Howard, a midlife tenor sax player.    He’s been commenting recently, and  I thought his story was worth sharing.    Way to go Howard!

Howard said 1 month ago:

am interested in your husband’s journey with the saxophone. Two years ago, at age 54, I picked up a tenor and started taking lessons. Continue reading

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Filed under Inspiration, Returning to Music

Practice? or Playing?

I was browsing through an (old) book about piano technique the other day.   The book, written by a virtuoso piano player in about 1902, pointed out that practice involves not just the body, but the brain, and that effective practice is a lot of work. Continue reading

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Another Reason for Stopping …

After my last post, someone I know read it and said, “I don’t play any more, because I’m afraid of annoying the neighbors.  I live in an apartment.”

My first thought was, “I’ve been there.  Know exactly what you mean.”

But then I thought, it’s a trap.   Continue reading

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Why Did You Stop?

Talking with friends over the past few weeks about this blog and its goals, an interesting question has emerged.   Why did you stop?   Why did music fall out of your life for so long?

There are no easy answers – and everyone’s story is different.   But in conversations, we’ve come up with a few possible answers. Continue reading

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