Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the twelfth in a series of entries describing Teresa Dybvig’s strategies for preparing for an upcoming recital after a long break from performing. Keep posted for further installments. For more about The Well-Balanced Pianist, click on this link: http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/
Wednesday, October 1
More mental practice, lightening up with 80/20 practice, and listening
I’m enjoying the effects of this mental-practice-with-open-sternum so much that I repeat it today. Again, when I return to the piano, the music practically plays itself! The way I’m setting up these pillows to open up my sternum also keeps my collarbones and shoulders open. I think it’s all helping.
I’ve become a little heavy and serious about this recital in the last few days. Judgmental thoughts about little slips and feelings that I “must” get something down are invading my practice time, and interfering with my enjoyment of the music. I realized yesterday that, although I now feel I have a good routine to produce a happy performance for the last couple of weeks prior to the performance, I don’t have a routine for daily practice with a near-term goal. When I have no goal, or a goal that’s very far away, I love practicing. I love the sounds, the musical explorations, the problem-solving, and the physical sensations. I get the blues when I don’t get to practice. So this feeling of serious heaviness that is invading my practicing is doubly unwelcome – it is not only unpleasant on its own, but also I miss my usual happy practice feelings.
I cannot let this stand, so I review what I know about practice mindset. One suggestion I haven’t tried systematically from Dr. Bill Moore’s Playing Your Best When it Counts series is his 80/20 rule. Until the performance is nigh, he says, most of your practicing should be in the problem-solving practice mindset. Even then, though, he says some of your daily practice should be practice of performance skills – things like trusting what you have trained. Dr. Moore says that trust is a skill you can practice! I decide to try that today. After some mental practice and slow practice, I play the first movement of the Pastorale up to tempo, not making sure of anything, but trusting that what I’m listening for will come out.
It’s fun! It works! I don’t feel heavy and serious, quite the contrary. Some time ago I came up with a whole story for this movement (it’s about forest sprites, if you want to know), and it comes into my imagination unbidden. Most of the piece really does go the way I want. Although there is that place where I changed some fingerings yesterday… Well, that’s ok. I practice that again after I do my trust practice, and then run it again, and it’s fine. I will no doubt need to revisit that section – a perfect spot for mental practice. But I feel happier and more engaged in my practice again. I will give this 80/20 thing a serious try these next few weeks.
Today I listened to some recordings of my Debussy preludes and the Overgrown Path. The Debussy is largely too fast for me to take it in, and full of little slips, but still, the pianist always gives us the big picture. This is an important reminder. The pianist playing the Overgrown Path takes tender loving care of every note, so much that he often plays in what would be a slow-practice tempo for me. I check the metronome markings in my Bärenreiter score, and although at some point I had to speed up some of those pieces, I am now playing some faster than marked. In others, the recording is a lot slower than the markings. I’m going to put some thought into that. In the meantime, I feel invited by that recording to more fully engage with every single note. That sounds so comforting I sit down to try it, and I love it.
Teresa Dybvig is founder and director of The Well-Balanced Pianist, an organization which presents programs across North America based on an integrated approach to teaching, learning, and performing. Previously on the faculty of the Taubman and Golandsky Institutes, Dr. Dybvig now teaches privately in Long Island, Manhattan, Chicago, and Denver. She specializes in helping pianists with playing-related injuries.