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In my private teaching this week I have been speaking with my students about the difference between the linear nature of a lesson and the often non-linear approach to good practicing. I think that similar principles apply in the differences between a rehearsal and an individual practice session. Before reading on, have a look at this fantastic article written by a friend and colleague on mine, Dr. Christine Carter:

Reading this article last week caused me to pause and reflect on my own practice methods. In fact, it made me re-think everything. While I would consider myself efficient and effective in the practice room, I am always looking for ways to improve. Many days we are left with so little time to practice that we need to think about practicing like investing with a finite amount of money. If we all had billions of dollars and as many hours in the day, we could be careless with them. But I want to invest my time like money: wisely and in ways that stand the best odds for a return on that investment. I honestly think it took me years to figure out how to truly practice; until I was 25 I don’t think I really had a clue.

What was I doing in the practice room all of those years? I think I was was mimicking the linear nature of my private lessons. A lesson and an individual practice session are two entirely different things. Thinking about the article above, would an interleaving format make for an effective lesson? Most often not. A lesson needs to have a linear structure in order to be cohesive. You need to be able to leave your lesson and concisely sum up for yourself what the lesson was about and what you need to work on. A good lesson needs to have a narrative or you’re going to be confused. To transform that narrative into results you then need to break it down. This is easier to do in the practice room because you are in the driver’s seat, not your teacher. You won’t loose sense of the narrative when you are in control of the process. But wait! Wasn’t I improving all of those years? Yes, but if we think of our money analogy again, my return was pennies on the dollar.

So why did I practice so poorly all those years? I really think it was because all my time with musical mentors was spent in a linear structure. I respected those mentors and wanted to apply what I was learning from them. I thought good practice should look like good lessons. I was wrong. The same thing holds true with an orchestral rehearsal. At the end of a rehearsal we need a narrative: where did we start? where did we get to? and where we are going? The answer to that last one might involve some time for you in the practice room. Will you need to break down passages into even smaller sections than we did in rehearsal? Will you have to go far slower than the under-tempo section we worked on? Will you have have to go non-linear and re-establish the narrative? Yes, yes and yes. While I’m on the topic of slow practice, check this out:

Ok, you’ve read that and now you’re back. As I write this, encouraging you to rethink your approach to practice, I am also reflecting on how I can improve in my own practice. No matter how strong you become in the practice room, there are always new efficiencies to find. Do you think the best financial investors ever stop analyzing the markets and their own choices?

I made bad investments of my time for years (and I know I still have a long way to go). I was initially puzzled as to why I did this. I had great teachers. My teachers even shared great wisdom on how to effectively practice. However, lessons by and large need to be linear and I was too busy trying to copy this format into my practice. Their advise was under-utilized. I turned a corner when I started slowing down my mind. I needed to formulate questions before I put my bow to the strings. What am I going to practice next? What am I hoping to achieve? What is my method for achieving that goal? If my teacher was a fly on the wall, would they approve of how I was practicing? Saskatoon is lucky to have such a fantastic network of private teachers. They have, without a doubt, talked to you about how to improve your practice technique. Ask them questions. They are your most valuable resource and they are there to help.

And…one more link for you to read:

Did you read it? Wow, this whole blog post has taken a long time to read! Perhaps you started it thinking you’d quickly browse through and then go practice for a little bit. Now it’s late and you’re left with no time to practice; that might be a good thing! Was it going to be a truly effective practice session? When you pick up the instrument tomorrow or the day after, try slowing down your mind and asking the simple question: Where am I going? The great violinist and teacher Leopold Auer reportedly once said “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.”

I love the internet. So many great ideas are easier to share than they every have been in human history. All of the above articles are from the website
It is a treasure trove of wisdom that is backed up by research. Thank you to Dr. Noa Kageyama, the website’s author and curator and Dr. Carter for so generously sharing their knowledge on the web. 2013 is a great time to be a musician with an internet connection!

“There is no top. There are always further heights to reach.”
-Jascha Heifetz

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