Thursday, Oct. 2
Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the thirteenth 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/
Slow appreciation practice, looking/listening/planning-ahead practice, mini performance script
Trying to remain happy and engaged in the music today, I fall into an almost meditative slow practice, just appreciating the music. I still work to smooth out new fingerings and get technically challenging passages to flow, but my main goal is to bask in the music, and remind myself what I want people to hear when I play it.
I play slowly and appreciatively through all the music I’ll play for Carol tomorrow, and then play it all again, slowly, looking/listening/planning ahead. Occasionally I lie on my sternum-opening pillows and mental practice, but today I’m mostly making sounds.
I do a lot of slow practicing. I have always felt it was efficacious. I know others do too – a friend recently wrote me that she was going off to do some slow practice – “It usually works when other avenues have failed…” Cognitive neuroscientist Gary Marcus says slow practice is the way musicians circumvent the brain’s speed-accuracy trade-off. Marcus describes this and other skills musicians must learn in his book Guitar Zero, about learning to play the guitar as an adult. He says that usually, the faster we execute a skill, the more mistakes we make. Slow practice allows us to encode subtle motion that survives in speed. Thank goodness!
Now, I have to be honest. The evidence does not fully support the idea that I always appreciated slow practice. Mrs. Mabel Berges, my beloved childhood piano teacher, wrote “slow practice” in my notebook every week for years. I suspect this was because I didn’t do it! But one day – I think I was in 6th or 7th grade – while struggling at home with a piece I couldn’t yet play, I glanced at my notebook and saw those words, for approximately the 400th time. I thought to myself that I would practice slowly if it weren’t so boring. This provoked a cascade of thoughts that ended in me playing slowly and expressively. My life changed! Slow practice wasn’t boring at all when I played with all the dots and dashes and p’s and f’s! As a matter of fact, I could hear the music so much better that way! That is why I always urge my students to play beautifully while playing slowly. After all, aren’t we practicing slowly so we can learn to play the music the way we want?
Since I have my lesson tomorrow, I spend a little time on a performance script. It’s a Reader’s Digest version, just some notes about what I think are important about the pieces, and reminders of elements that help me play well this week. Open sternum, practicing trust, and full engagement make the cut. I have never done such a paltry performance script before. I hope it still helps.
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.