What is practice? Why do musicians of all ages and competence levels need to practice? What about other artists like painters and writers and photographers? It seems like they just go out and do. Yoda would be proud--"do or do not. There is no try." Well, really painters and photographers are developing their eyes and writers are developing their voice. Musicians are closest to the art of dance in their practice. We work on developing our artistic expression while training like athletes.
Certain fundamentals like scales, arpeggios, broken thirds form the basis for most music. Daily practice of these strengthens the muscles while allowing fluidity and flexibility. The goal is to see a passage on the page and let the fingers just fly. This is practice for the future.
There is also practice for the present. This is the study of pieces to be prepared for private lessons or ensemble classes. To get immediate results, a student needs to break their piece down into different sections--melodic sections, technically challenging sections, rhythmically challenging sections. This is the practice that's great for the brain--it's problem solving!
I'm fascinated to read about competitive athletes preparations. They too work on strength, endurance, flexibility and they also spend a lot of time on their mental game. How can we add this kind of practice to our students' routines? So often in lessons a student will hurl her bow toward the string and then wonder why a beautiful melody didn't spring forth. I like to train my students to mentally prepare by playing the piece in their head before they move a muscle. Focus. Hear the music. Take a breath. Play. It works like a charm!
And just like athletes, the steps we repeat reinforce the outcomes we achieve. Slap the bow on the string to start every piece? Chances are you'll begin with a crunch at the Spring Recital. Repeat the same mistakes every time you practice? It's more than likely you'll make the same mistakes at Solo and Ensemble Contest. Take a little extra time to work on your fundamentals, to think about the details and listen to yourself. Remember: practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent!