We musicians have much to master along the road to acquiring expertise. And the demands of practice can sometimes be daunting.
But as we build up our skills, we need to remember that, in the process of assembling technical know-how, we also must grow our powers as creative artists.
How do we do that? How do we ‘deepen the mystery’ when practicing the likes of scales, etudes, ensemble parts, and orchestral excerpts?
In a nutshell, on top of enjoying detailed work, I’ve learned that we have to embody the three elements of deep practice that I explore in The Musician’s Way: Mastery, Integration, and Transcendence.
With a mastery orientation, we choose material that fits our level and then insist on artful execution.
We don’t tolerate dull phrasing, fuzzy fingerings, or hazy intonation. We make each musical gesture shine.
We practice short enough segments of music and at deliberate enough tempos that every pitch radiates precision.
Music making involves everything we are – our minds, bodies, and spirits.
So, when you practice a scale or an exercise, make it your habit to do the following:
- Listen to your tone, vibrato, intonation, dynamics, meter, and articulation.
- Feel a sense of weightlessness in your limbs and a smoothness in your breath.
- Balance supply as you sit or stand.
- Emote through your instrument or voice.
- Think about how your execution measures up to your ideal and resolve any shortcomings.
- Become your musical interpretation and its execution.
With deep practice, “no pitch is merely a pitch; each one has a living quality” (The Musician’s Way, p. 20).
To bring your phrases to life, in addition to integrating your whole self, drench your sound with meaning.
If you’re learning a sparse ensemble part, let’s say, internally hear the complete composition and dramatize every nuance, transcending the ordinary.
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Composer Pierre Boulez said that music is “a labyrinth with no beginning and no end, full of new paths to discover, where mystery remains eternal.”
Through our commitment to mastery, integration, and transcendence, we attain technical competence while giving voice to our spirit. We truly ‘deepen the mystery.’
© 2010 Gerald Klickstein