Friday, August 9, 2013

The long and winding road

In my previous post, I admitted that I didn't really enjoy working away from the instrument. As true as that is, the fact remains that I haven't been doing much of it at all. Up until now, I've started my work at the instrument and then made my way to working away from the instrument--quite begrudgingly.

Since starting this blog a few months ago, my practice techniques and the quality of my practice have skyrocketed. From posting an online practice log to dissecting my day-to-day good and bad habits, my practice keeps getting better and better. I was aware that I had a passion for music, but I had never quantified it in such an analytical way. I knew that this is what I do, but I was never so acutely aware of how intense this is.

One obstacle to putting down my thoughts in a "how to" manner is that the reader might assume that I know exactly "how to." My own success at memorization has given me a vantage point, however that vantage point is still one of renewal and discovery. Memorization-wise, I may be far ahead of those who play from score, but I'm still far behind those who've been doing this much longer than I.

My previous post, on mental practice, ended with this paragraph:
What about learning a score completely away from the instrument? Why not? It's something practiced by many musicians, and I've been incorporating more and more of this type of practice into my own routine.
If truth be told,  the process of writing that post and coming to that final paragraph raised a big red flag for me: I haven't been doing enough mental practice. More so, I'm not so convinced that some of the techniques I've written about, namely repetitious practice, should take place before mental practice commences. I'm doubting if one should even touch the instrument before having spent a lot of time with a score away from the instrument.

If you've kept up with this blog, you may have surmised that I write the posts a few weeks in advance of their publication. This gives me a little leeway to take time off and also to proofread my writing before it's posted. This post is being written on July 26. Before today, my last day of practice was July 22, as I took a few days off for a short vacation. 

On July 22, I reached a crisis with my practice: Was I doing it all wrong? I've been writing about a solid foundation at the instrument, and, until now, I hadn't thought too much about starting with mental practice. Thankfully, I had a few days off, and I resumed my practice today with a new verve.

As I've stated multiple times in this blog, there is more than one way to memorize music. After all, it's your brain, and you need to do what's best for you. I've also stated that the process of memorizing music will make you a better musician. It forces self-analysis. 

And so I start again with some new thoughts on my approach to memorization practice. I've developed a ratio system for my repertoire, trying to keep mental work at a 2:1 or 3:2 ratio to work at the instrument. I'm trying to be more conscious of my work by writing down daily goals and keeping my practice approach varied. Just as professional athletes need to switch up their workouts, we musicians need to, too. 

One of my pieces, the second movement of Bach's D minor Concerto, is now being practiced completely away from the instrument. I'm going to make sure that I can "hear" it before working at the instrument. If I were to continue as I had been, I would just be repeating passages over and over in an attempt to develop aural memory. It makes a whole lot more sense to do this away from the instrument. I suspect very strongly that the learning process will be much faster, too.

Today's practice session was very quiet. I played very little, and the only constant sound was a metronome. When I returned to the instrument after so much silence, I was reawakened to the timbre and expressive possibilities of the instrument. Mental practice made my playing much more special and less routine. My ear was rejuvenated!

I'm sure that I'll arrive at another crisis point in good time. In the meantime, consider that this "how to" guide is from the perspective of one who doesn't have all the answers.