image of electric bass“If excellence is a habit (which it is), then students must consistently play in ways that are fundamentally excellent nearly all the time.”
-Robert A. Duke, Ph.D.

Whether we’re practicing or performing, all of us musicians are striving for excellence.

But do students really know what excellent musicianship entails?

In The Musician’s Way, I classify the following Habits of Excellence because I’ve learned that many students lack clarity about the nature of expertise.

When we embody these 7 habits in every practice session, excellence becomes our ‘default setting’ in rehearsal and on stage.

1. Ease. Easeful music making depends on particular mental and physical habits. Mentally, we have to learn our material deeply and then, as we play or sing, grasp the sound and feel of passages before we execute them. Physically, we need to understand how graceful execution is accomplished in general and specifically with our instrument. Topics related to easeful execution appear throughout The Musician’s Way.

2. Expressiveness. Pages 23-34 of The Musician’s Way map out the inner workings of artistic interpretation and incorporate diverse music examples.

3. Accuracy. How can we maximize accuracy? By insisting on precision from the outset of the learning process. Chapter 3 of TMW details a process for starting on new material that ensures expressiveness and accuracy from the first stages of practice. For an overview, see “The Ultimate Practice Shortcut.”

4. Rhythmic vitality. Pages 31-33 show how we can use note grouping to imbue our phrases with irresistible forward motion.

5. Beautiful tone. “The quality of your tone will probably have a more immediate impact on listeners than any other feature of your execution” (TMW, p. 22). We elevate our tone production skills through experimentation, self-recording, seeking feedback, and, most of all, listening perceptively.

6. Focused attention. Students who are unfocused in performance typically establish lax mental habits in practice. “Be alert in the practice room that your mindful radar never goes on standby. Always direct yourself with broad awareness” (TMW, p. 194).

7. Positive attitude. It takes time and diligence to acquire the skills of an expert performer, and all of us deal with triumphs and stumbles as we progress. “Committing to the Creative Process” (TMW, p. 109-112) affirms that we stay positive by setting specific goals, maintaining a degree of detachment, fueling our motivation, and arming ourselves with problem-solving skills.

Preview The Musician’s Way at Amazon.com.

© 2009 Gerald Klickstein

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