What are the goals of Practicing? I don’t mean minute, day-to-day practicing, I mean capital “P” Practicing, the idea. Certainly different people have different goals. A newer student, for example, may seek to just understand the instrument. But for the purposes of this post, let’s discuss Practicing as it pertains to professional performance.
In the broadest sense, we go to the practice room to get better. Most of the time, that means honing skills so that every note is perfect every time. Occasionally it means we are trying to figure out an interpretation. There is always a sense of making it good when we are practicing.
And I think this is a dangerous concept. If we want something to get better, there is the sense that it will only get that way if we make it be better. Every trained musician has heard things like this: more vibratto, more crescendo, more in tune, stay in time, articulate more clearly, prepare the candential trill with upper neighbor and make sure to include the nachslag.
Instead, what if we thought of practicing as a process of simplification? Especially for jaded musicians with advanced degrees, it may be more helpful to engage in an active clearing away of things.
On a surface level, we might have to clear away worries about all of the “rules” of playing especially baroque and classical style. On a deeper level, we might have to clear away all of the recordings and performances we have ever heard of a piece so that we can create something authentic.
When I am practicing technique, for example, my goal is to free myself up to create music. If I am worried about notes, it is very difficult to think about anything else. It is a process of clearing away thoughts about my fingers.
When I am practicing interpretation, I am practicing a mindset, not necessarily a specific idea. I am practicing the process of creating the music, not the piece as some static entity. I am clearing away the idea of the “piece” so that I can be free in the moment that the performance occurs.
What if these were always the goals of Practicing and of practicing? I would guess that if we practiced by clearing away instead of adding/forcing, not only would we be happier and more relaxed, but we also wouldn’t have to practice as long.
Curiously, sometimes if we want to get better, we have to take things away.