Slower Practice with Greater Impact

Back in 2012, I wrote this post on practicing slowly: Making Slow Practice Meaningful.

Many of the ideas of integrating a full scope of movements and observations still ring true for me, and guide every one of my practice sessions. 

  • Slow practice should always include more than simply playing the correct notes with the correct rhythms. Even in the stages of learning the notes, greater musical intentions should be included. Take the time to decide how it should sound, what is being said, and what ingredients to include.
  • Slow practice gives a chance to watch how we're producing sounds, and therefore we can experiment and uncover greater possibilities for achieving our desired musical interpretation.

Quality Over Quantity

Principal Chairs shared a wonderful interview with Elizabeth Rowe, principal flutist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and her thoughts on practicing efficiently are noteworthy:

"I am a huge believer in quality over quantity. So often, I see musicians working on just one element of the music at a time. For example, I might see someone slowing down a difficult passage and repeating it a number of times to clean up their fingers, but all the while they’re using a relatively poor sound and not inflecting the music with much shaping or character. They then have to circle back to add those elements in later on. I always try to layer on as many musical elements as possible when working. So I don’t just play scales, I try to play beautifully shaped scales with a singing sound, perfect intonation and some sort of interesting rhythmic element. I don’t just work on playing the Firebird with excellent rhythm, but while I’m working with the metronome I ask myself if those rhythmic figures are conveying the character I want. In other words, use your whole mind and soul when practicing. This is the quality part! If you do this at all times, the work will be very intense, efficient, and tiring!! Twenty minutes of this sort of in-depth work accomplishes much more than an hour of drills. I also advocate practicing without the flute if you can’t find a practice space or only have 2 minutes to spare—our minds are powerful tools, and simply thinking through a phrase or imagining a certain quality of sound can produce results later on."

- Elizabeth Rowe via Principal Chairs, 2015 - Read the Full Article Here

Slow practice doesn't just provide an opportunity to get the notes right, but an opportunity to practice with every element included. I find that I have to go even slower when practicing with heightened observation, emotion, intention, and efficiency, and I always learn more when doing so.

Detail-Oriented Practice

Select a short, difficult passage and commit to learning about every detail:

  • What is the overall character or mood of the piece, specifically this part?
  • How does that influence the shape and sound quality of my notes?
  • What indication does the composer give for tempo, style, dynamics, and articulation markings, and what effect do these elements provide?
  • Uncover phrasing and structure related to the bigger picture.

Make these choices, put a timer on, and practice slowly.

Just how much detail can I practice with?