Updated: Aug 10, 2018
Then the third little pig built himself a house of bricks. It took him a long time to build it, and it was a very strong house. - From The Three Little Pigs
First, there is art.
The artistic message is the essence of what we do. But for the message to be communicated truthfully, the transmitting medium must be effective.
At the basis of an effective performance (“effective” taking on different meanings for each performer and/or listener) is a solid technique.
A solid technique allows the musician to experience freedom from the limitations imposed on him by the markings on the page and lets his vision of a work take place. However, reaching mastery takes time . . . lots of time. It requires dedication, discipline, and a long-term vision which guides everyday (every minute!) decisions.
One of my favorite nerdy conversations during my time at Northwestern University took place in a smelly practice room in a dingy building which Bienen students call the Beehive. What started as a chat about shifting gradually morphed into an exchange about patience in practicing. My colleague and I agreed that, in practicing like in most things, patience leads fastest to you final goal.
An efficient practice session requires a great deal of thoughtful patience. Patience to listen well, stop in the presence of a problem, ask the right questions to analyze it, think of ways to fix it, and, finally, to work on it methodically and thoroughly. One could say that, in a nutshell, proper practice requires precise planning, a purposeful process, and plenty of patience!
Thoughtful practice is one of the concepts which I try to instill the most with my students, and yet it seems to be one of the hardest to understand. Distracted by short-term goals, they more often than not resort to their old (ineffective) tricks. No surprise here: whether we are students or professionals, our eagerness to achieve quick results is at the root of most of our bad practicing habits - playing through mindlessly, playing too fast, repeating motions without many notions [or “much notion”].
Like the little piggy, we must decide that we will keep the big bad wolf of poor performance at bay and painstakingly build a solid house of brick, one brick at a time, methodically, and patiently.
And students are not the only perpetrators of the “poor practicing pattern” crime: facing constant deadlines and juggling busy lives, a lot of us “pros” occasionally fall into the trap. By putting my thoughts on the subject in writing, I hope to extend the instruction I provide my students in the studio into their daily life. I sincerely hope that it will help them develop a heightened awareness of their practice habits, while at the same time stimulate and deepen my own practice.