After a couple of weeks of intense practice we musicians tend to run in automatic mode. We know what to do and when to do it—but that doesn’t mean we are getting the most out of our routine.
That’s when we have to bring back a little consciousness to renew our contract with music.
Here’s what you should consider during your practice sessions:
1. Feel comfortable with the temperature of your cubicle. You can only learn when you are comfy.
2. Have all your accessories in one place.
3. Breathe and slow down—you are about to start something religious.
4. Focus on focus. Leave everything behind, clear your mind and enter the PRACTICE mode.
5. Warm-up! 15 minutes at least. Take care of yourself so you can make the art you love so much for years to come.
6. Stretch before playing your first note.
7. Have your pencil ready to jot down your progress and make markings.
8. Once you are ready to STUDY, keep your “mental control”. Focus on what you are learning—not about the pizza you’ll eat afterwards.
9. Use a mirror as part of your practice. See how you look like and what can improve your tone/performance.
10. Posture is essential to improve sound—and other things.
11. Prepare a plan before your sessions and stick to it. Know what each minute of practice is dedicated to.
12. Follow your plan no matter what. Trust your preparation beforehand.
13. Build the music. Don’t practice everything at once. E.g. The first hour you learn notes, the second intonation, then rhythm then everything together. Then everything separate again and building it one at the time for a couple of weeks. It’s a long process but it’s the most efficient.
14. Spend time building your technique. When inspiration finally arrives you will have a viable way to express yourself. Get into those etudes!
15. Listen to a lot of music and hear the professionals’ interpretations. Learn from styles and composers.
16. When you practice slowly, you forget slowly. Mr. Perlman said that!
17. The metronome is discipline’s no.1 ally.
18. Repetitions will engrave things in your brain forever.
19. Know the structure of your piece. A little music theory never hurt anybody 🙂 .
20. Imagine the rest of the orchestra while you play your part. Keep them in mind while performing.
21. Phrasing a line is making music. Not phrasing is playing notes.
22. Make a good dynamic contrast—but don’t lose the sound in the (p) pianos.
23. Style is what characterizes the piece.
24. Rhythms HAVE to be accurate.
25. Play in tune. All you have to do is: LISTEN. Mr. Perlman said that as well.
26. Read a book or two about the history of the composer you are interpreting.
27. Get free scores at imslp.org or get them on Amazon.
28. Once you know the style of a piece, you’ll perform the right strokes.
29. Vibrato has to be controlled.
30. Articulate! Play clean.
31. Coordinate both hands.
32. Re-check posture. You’ve been working a lot and might’ve move into a more comfortable position. Adjust.
33. Your breathing has to support your playing.
34. Take a break when your mind is exhausted, don’t waste time.
35. Stay hydrated to maximize efficiency. Drink a lot of water.
36. Take vitamin C to stay healthy.
37. Don’t Facebook while on breaks – stay with the music in your head as long as possible.
38. Keep your mind focused on what you practiced. Keep practicing in your mind. Think and rethink rhythms, notes, etc.
39. It’s all about surviving, really. Effective practice takes a huge amount of concentration. Survive your 3 hours session and then you can rest.
40. After a couple of hours you will leave the focus-house and that will be fine.
41. Push your limits. Stay longer if you can.
42. Leave when you are not productive, not when you get tired.
43. Remember: Practice is the only thing that will get you there.
44. You want to be good; then you have to give it all.
45. Be constant. Do it every day.
46. Move drip by drip and SMILE. There is no finish line.
47. Believe in your dreams and do give up what you are not passionate about. Then, follow what you are passionate until you get there. Enjoy the ride, and don’t stop until you reach it.
48. Remove distractions while working. It helps concentration.
49. Live a calm life.
50. Love what you do.
Now you have something concrete in your hands (a list)—it’s time to take action.
It’s fun and entertaining to read lists like the above but only when you take action can you improve your persona.
Remember: smart practice is a combination of:
· Knowing what to do
· Sticking to it no matter what.
I hope these items serve as inspiration to work at your best level.
FOR THE EMPIRE,
It has always been the ultimate goal of many musicians. Sometimes, it’s even the reason young students sign up for music lessons; and definitely the “why” you and me spent so many hours locked up in a practice room.
We want to play it “A tempo”
From day 1 you imagined yourself on stage playing your solo with a great orchestra. That’s the goal. It’s hard to realize we must go through certain stages; an inevitable process. Playing fast is more than just being awesome, it’s actually knowing what it takes to earn that awesomeness. It is also being able to notice every single detail going on while you are performing.
Are you in tune? Is your performance clean at this tempo? Is my hand(s) working to facilitate movement? Play fast is one thing. Playing fast with all of the above completely mastered it’s another thing. After listening to a live performance of all the Paganini caprices, I personally get really excited. I feel the need to be able to execute/have the technique to play these caprices. I believe it’s vital to watch the pros in action. Get pumped up and find the motivation to start taking small steps in the right direction.
All the Elements Together
Playing Fast Requires Time. How much? It depends.
1. On the difficulty of the piece—
2. How many time you’ve done it, and
3. How bad you want it.
If you want it badly you are half way there, said someone I can’t remember right now. Every time you do something, anything, your brain carves some tunnels. These tunnels can brume away easily if they are not deepen enough. How?
Repetition and Time
At some point after hundreds of repetitions you won’t need to do it anymore (don’t worry it will take years so don’t even think about it). For now keep repeating smartly and you’ll be on the right track.
1. Think you are a turtle. It helped me. Move from one note to the other and feel everything; your finger playing that note, intonation, the distance between the new note and the old one and so on.
2. Understand the learning process. It’s not 3 days of slow boring practice. You need a plan.
3. As a rule, practice what you learned the day before (so it can be carved deeply) but still move on to new things.
…it’s also a big ingredient. Knowing that it won’t be “a tempo” tomorrow morning is a big realization. I understand, your eager to play it the way you would at Carnegie Hall. Yeah, that’s the goal but not now. The soonest you get to really understand that, the better and more efficient will your sessions be.
Believe in your abilities and wait.
1. Follow a working plan. Spend at least a month to see bigger improvements.
2. Don’t get frustrated. Big things are not accomplished overnight. Baby steps are essential.
3. Look forward to the end but don’t rush it. Try enjoying the process of building your different techniques and applying musicality.
Musician’s Best Friend; Mr. Beat
Or any other kind of metronome. He is your best companion. He will help you play accurate and evolve with conscience. Mr, metronome will treat you like if you were a baby. And that’s a good thing .
Things to consider:
1. He is your best friend only if you follow him. Don’t lose him. To be efficient is to follow your best friend.
2. Work strategically. Select some excerpts of the pieces you are working on and perform them really slow simulating the conditions you will be executing when you play fast. (e.g. Same part of the bow).
3. When you are satisfied move up. Perhaps 5 points up and try to stay on top of your technique as well as the musical understanding.
Separating all the technical difficulties and practicing them one at a time can very much helps the final result. It will allow your brain to cook things better.
As you work your way up, individual technique practice will enhance each area so that the entire technical aspect works towards one another.
1. Remember the tunnel carving. Repetition makes these tunnels deepen to the point that the info stays forever.
2. Slow practice is crucial for coordination of both hands.
3. To have a smart practice session, you must analyze from different points of view at all times.
As you continue to grow as a musician, you will find that organization is probably the number one thing to focus in order to have a satisfactory performance. You want to play fast? Great! Now, let’s see how we can do that with a good level of musical and technical understanding. You must know your music, the orchestra parts, accompaniment, main lines, how your part develops and where to, and how your line fits among the rest.
When the fast part arrives, controlling your emotions will play a big role. Staying steady and being a good musician should be the priority at all times. Have fun, show off what you have practiced and keep growing as a musician. If you did your homework, you will be growing as a person as well.
Music. Life. Humans. It’s what we are. What we do. We start every day exactly where we left it the day before. It’s a continuous cycle that builds a “new you” over time. But life is more than growing and becoming a professional. I would say life is mostly about being Happy. But also about some mystical behaviors that enhance who we really are.
Sadly, we often forget about these holdings. Most of the time, life goes by without any appreciation for the things we have. An average day can be forgotten easily. When we are bored we find something to do to get rid of our valuable time.
At the end of the day, you look back and the time was just gone. We could spend a few years “living” and the same thing may happen. You look back and Zap! Time is gone. And then I think… Is that what I live for? am I entirely happy by having this kind of life?
Should I be taking 100% advantage of the time? Maybe trying to become a productivity buff? Is it OK to play video games an entire day (once a week) and forget about practicing? What’s right and what’s wrong? What’s healthy? According to who?
What’s cool about life is that as you age, you get wiser. You’ve lived enough to tell what’s worth spending your time in. But for now, you must learn as you go. Try different things no matter what.
What old people usually say is that failure can be considered your best friend, for it teaches you some valuable lessons. On the other hand it can be your mortal enemy because it makes you feel like crap.
For me, happiness it’s a vicious process in which you feel that life stops for a certain amount of time until you prepare for the next scene. You maintain happiness as long as there is no happiness anymore. Then you have to ask the inevitable…
What happened to happiness? How do I get it back?
Imagine a person standing and looking themselves from the shoes up. You have a whole body, you are the owner. You can do with it whatever you feel like. You can be fit or eat unhealthy—you can be awesome or be dull.
It is actually your responsibility to protect your assets. As you gain conscience, you will feel that happiness can be attained in matter of seconds. The cool thing is, that it can also stay as long as you want it to stay.
One thing we usually associated with happiness is our own professional goals.
Example; If you are a grand soloist, you are definitely happy!!. Why?
Because you have a very exposed career? Because you go on tours?
What if I am a music teacher and change the lives of thousands of kids? am I successful? Should I feel happy then? Again, according to who?
You determine what success means.
… then you can create your own interpretation of happiness.
Know that you were selected among thousands of organisms to be a human being—the highest class of living organisms (you could’ve been a giraffe ). But instead, you were chosen (in our case) to make an impact with your music.
When you work toward changing people’s lives, you will be happy.
(whether you are a soloist or not)
But is not going to be easy. You will have to Persevere.
Yeah, I know you’ve read that word before on many of my blog posts. But it’s actually how you can keep the joy of being who you are.
As you persevere, you will have several encounters with your own persona. Those will be inevitable, sooner or later, you will realize that every single thing that makes you unique, counts.
Uniqueness works on your favor to help you stand out among the crowd.
Organization is also essential to define what you want to accomplish—what in the end will keep happiness around you.
It’s OK not to have an answer for everything right at this moment, the important thing is that you persevere and organize your life so that you remain in certain paths that lead to your main goal.
Stay on Earth.
Be grateful for what you have. Health, friends, family, etc. They complete the human being inside you—not the 8 hours a day in the practice room. Is the people around you who define the real you. When you go out, notice what’s around. Be grateful you have eyes to appreciate. Be grateful for as many things as you can—that satisfaction sends you through the right paths I talked earlier. That feeling, will help battle those “learning moments” so that you stick to your plan and avoid pitfalls.
Believe in learning. Believe in appreciation. Be aware of how small you are as an individual but also, how big and privileged you are to be alive and breathing.
You will make a difference in this world. Your music will change the life of thousands of people that you may not even know.
Reflect on that.
You are home practicing scales, stressed and overwhelmed by music but think of the final result—is a huge miracle. A miracle so big that you may not understand it completely.
The joy of being who you are should remain within yourself for the rest of your days. The spark that turns on when you are happy about something, can make a difference in other people’s lives. If we find a way to keep it alive by applying basic techniques of self-development, perhaps we could build a small army of self-disciplined people that influences a bigger mass by showing off the final result.
When you and me understand what make us who we are, the actual purpose of our existence, many elements unify. The universe itself will turn positive vibes in favor of our ideas. We will find success as a crowd and not as an individual. We’ll be able to strengthen the laces of human kind. Only by having this kind of behavior, may we prove, that this fictional world I just created could one day be a reality.
I am still a young musician. Unlike my professors and people who have been playing for many, many years, I am still learning.
In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started this blog, to share what I’ve recently learned and hopefully help other musicians find a higher level of musical understanding easier and faster.
Lately, I have been trying to practice a good amount of hours, and as usual, trying to do so as smart as I can.
It’s good to remind ourselves what’s really effective, what really works. After many weeks or even moths of practicing, one can stop thinking. You get used to a routine and stop looking beyond your own boundaries.
Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve heard it before. But you haven’t heard my approach yet.
Every musician take notice of it in master-classes, seminars, YouTube, lessons, etc.
Now, what does it take to practice slowly in an extremely productive way?
You practice slow and then it’s perfect?
Do they mean slow scales?
Here’s what I think. I’ve done a series of experiments and this is what I believe slow practice is about:
1) Music must be built up the same way you build up your muscles.
You work different parts, all separately.
- a) Intonation
- b) Phrasing
- c) Dynamics
- d) Bowings
After working in detail each of these technical issues, you can then put them together one by one.
- a) Legato + Intonation
- b) Intonation + Articulation
- c) Intonation + Legato + Articulation
And so on…
This will take a long while. I’m talking about weeks if not months, depending on the difficulty of the piece. Be patient, you’ll get there the smart way. Have You Practiced 10,000 Hours Yet?
You need a strong base to support a heavy piece of music with hundreds of details. You can then get deeper into the music and work aspects like musicality.
2) Slow practice needs time. Your brain is an awesome machine. Make sure you learn how to operate it.
You need time in order to cook your food and get the maximum out of it.
- a) Select hard passages.Slowly analyzing.Watch how your fingers move and how you get to the new note.
Your fingers learned how to get to “B” from “A”. But they haven’t learned how to get to “B” from “C”. (Yep, it’s that hard)
- b) Practice your excerpt really slow focusing onas many details as you can. After 15- 20 minutesleave it. You brain, muscles and mind get tired, it’s hard to focus longer that.
Like I said, the brain is an amazing machine. Next time you come back you will notice a difference. Your brain it’s still working on it even though you are not physically involved.
3) Control your instrument with your mind. You don’t have to be a psychic though. Instrumental playing is really delicate. You can change something by moving your pinky slightly forward (string players) or by relaxing your right shoulder.
- a) Sometimes it only takes tobe aware of the problem. If youthink what you need to do (yes, only by thinking) you will perform it as well. Not always, but when the “fixing” is small.
Through slow practice you figured that the fourth finger is a little too flat. Be aware of it and don’t try to play it higher, think about it, then perform it. Next time you play it, you’ll fix it immediately.
4) Be aware of your body. With slow practice you will have enough time to notice a variety of things including how your body behaves.
Are you tensing up 5 measures before that hard passage?
I bet you will notice if you practice slow.
- a)Feelyour shoulders, fingers, hands, forearms, mouth, cheeks and every other part of the body that could be involved in your playing.
- b) Replay the excerpts with a new mind set- relaxation.
If you understand your machine’s needs and give it what it needs, then it will repay you by giving you a strong base. You two must work together as a team (yes, I mean you and your brain). It is the only way to feel the owner of a piece of music.
Slow Practice Means More Time for the Brain to Think
When you study slowly you forget slowly.
– Itzhak Perlman
When we listen to music, we are providing our mind and soul some sort of relief and pleasure. That is why we do it! We simply enjoy to listen our favorite artists and it feel so good to sing along or even hum an instrumental piece. As musicians, we enjoy music the same way non-musicians do- we have more knowledge regarding the structure of the music but in the end it’s the same pleasure. We do music because we like to perform it as well- it feel so good to participate in a concert and play with your colleagues, and even more if we play a solo or as a soloist.
As a young musician I was told by a composition teacher that I will find success only if I look for it, only if I keep doing something to make it happen- ALWAYS. Since then, that advice have been in my head and will continue to be there for the rest of my life. It has make a difference in my approach to the business.
Being in the music business is not easy stuff, we all know it’s hard to make it in to a symphony orchestra- the competition is huge. Make it as a teacher would require a certain amount of degrees and certifications. And all the other branches in music are really hard to achieve due to the competition and the fact that we probably have to work in multiples places on different tasks. Teaching, performing, composing and gigging have been my duties for the last few years- and I am still working on my masters!
I always say to younger students that want to major in music- “ Think twice! or maybe more than that! But, if, after you think about it for a while, the only thing you see yourself doing in the future is MUSIC and you will be unhappy doing anything else-Oh yeah! GO FOR IT! Know all the sacrifices that you are about to do- all the energy that you will need to practice hard- the stamina you will need to produce quality content, if you are a composer. If you analyze the possibilities, they are endless. If you are into music and work hard in any branch, I am 100% sure you will have a job! there is no reason to be afraid of failure. There is a lot of things you can do as a musician, so, no worries it will happen.
Think about it!… and if you think this is for you- why not give it a try? After all, it is what you really want to do!