I haven’t been writing about practicing lately, because I haven’t been practicing. Somehow, even though I have recitals coming up, and more performances right around the corner, and recordings to make, I’ve been in a complete rut. I know I am not perfect, but the music on my stand has been there for so long I am bored with it and have been struggling to find things to work on. It doesn’t help that the weather is so terrific and I only want to get out in the sun and run my winter flab away. My playing is not going to improve itself.
I was whining about this to a good friend the other day - the kind of friend who will actually listen to this sort of self-indulgence - and right in the middle of my diatribe I solved it. Idly reading through my repertoire as though I have to perform it in a few weeks is not motivating - I have to work on what I need to improve, and focus my attention on one or two things at a time.
I made a list of elements that I can pay attention to:
Variety of color
Today I thought about intonation. I played my warmups with a tuner drone, slowing everything down so that I could really hear what was going on. This was particularly valuable since I’ve just gotten my Loree back from another crack repair and needed to get back in touch with it. I went through the Mozart Concerto and about half of my recital repertoire, AS SLOWLY AS NECESSARY to make all the intervals accurate. Sometimes that meant zooming through scale-wise passages to get to the big leaps that are difficult, and sometimes stopping to sing the pitch I needed to expect. Sometimes I turned my drone back on, sometimes glanced at the tuning meter on held notes. A few times I found myself reconsidering my planned articulations in the interest of making my intonation perfectly stellar.
My practice sessions today were far, far better than any in recent memory. With something more to think about than simply a performance deadline and my vague desire to be better, I was inspired to work well. With a specific goal I was able to harness my practicing brain to use a variety of techniques, just as I do when I am learning new repertoire and licks. Just as I do when I coach students to improve.
Tomorrow I will tackle another item on my list. I didn’t get through every piece of music on my stand today, but that doesn’t matter at all. The point is that I am putting good work in, and that tomorrow I will look at other pieces, through the lens of Rhythm, or Articulation.
I love having a system to work within, but my system doesn’t have to be inflexible. If concerns about Tempo don’t factor into a given piece, I won’t do it that day. If I’m thinking about Variety of Colors, I might just start each of my pieces to see how they are different, or work on getting from the end of one to the beginning of the next.
I’m grumpy that I wasted time being in a slump recently - this kind of practice is not new to me but I forget from year to year how to renew myself in these situations. The point is to keep putting the work in. The point is to keep finding things to work on. The point is, I’m back.