Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What is Practice? Part 3 - On the surface – Practice as Preparation for Performance

(Part 1)
(Part 2)

Certainly much of our practice is geared towards acquiring skill or proficiency. There is a certain level of technical ability required to play a musical instrument, and we need to be able to play the right notes at the right pitch at the right speed.

To gain this technical proficiency, we “play… things that nobody would want to listen to. This might include scales, arpeggios, extended tones…, and various technical patterns.” As Chad Fowler remarks:

I would certainly never record them and release them on a CD. I wouldn't even bore anyone with these sounds unless they either lived in my house and had no choice or were being paid to listen to them and offer suggestions for improvement.

But we don’t want to acquire technical skill just for the sake of having technical skill. No, we want to perform for an audience. So practice could also be defined as the preparation for performance. Private, isolated practice in preparation for public performance.

So we practice our pieces, work on the fingering for a particular passage, play those bars over and over again until we cannot possibly make a mistake. We analyse the harmony, and impart meaning into the melody. We turn the piece of music inside out and find out how it was put together, so we can re-create it in our own interpretation. We try to get under the skin of the music, to feel its emotions as our own.

This process of preparing for performance takes time, patience, discipline, and often seems like a lot of hard work. But the goal is in sight – that big recital. Wow, won’t it be great to have achieved that! All this hard work will have been worth it!

But what happens when that big recital has been? Our practice is not at an end. We still have to turn up at the instrument the next day, continuing to hone our technique and learning the music for the next gig. Just like the proverbial housework, practice is never really done.
In our practice we are constantly striving towards some future date, focussed on a target that keeps moving as our goals grow and shift. We are never satisfied because what we are working for is never now. It is always somewhere in the future.

Practice can be very easily seen as merely the means to an end, the road by which we arrive at our real goals as musicians – performance. Because, after all, we’re performers, not practicers, aren’t we?

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