Friday, February 20, 2009

A quick thought on practicing

This will be a quick entry today. We depart at 4:30 the NCMEA Eastern Regional Orchestra Festival. I will be taking 13 of my students from NCSSM. This has been a busy week at school. We just completed the 2nd trimester of the year and all of my students have been taking exams this week. (In fact, I am giving a music theory exam as I write this!)

My students have been trying to prepare for the regional orchestra event in the midst of this busy academic week. So, practice time has been limited. I took a minute a few days ago to look up the three pieces that they are preparing on Youtube and send the link to them. The works are: Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations, Tsiolkovsky's Romeo and Juliet , and Dvorak's Carnival Overture. These are all great, well-known works and easily and quickly available on Youtube. I am amazed at the number of my students that hadn't thought to check out a recording before beginning to prepare the music.

This, to me, ought to be task #1 when preparing a new piece of music. When I am preparing a work that is new to me, I seek out as many recordings as possible. I play them in the car, in my home, when I can study a score, and when I can't. I try to just internalize the work as much as possible. Then, when I have time to practice, I actually know the end-goal.

It took me a long time to learn this. But, after years of experience, I am convinced that listening is the key to achieving real artistry in our playing (and, for me, conducting). It is the same with jazz. How can one aspire to be great without first listening to that studying the greats? Yet, millions of folks try to learn to play jazz without ever hearing John Coltrane, Miles Davis, etc. Weird.

Additionally, it just saves time! You won't be fighting with figuring out notes and rhythms. It is so much easier when you have that aural reference. I know that my students didn't have time for that this week. So, if that edge is available, why not take advantage of it?

So, to my students, and anyone else that may be reading this, put on a recording!! It will change the way your approach your instrument and preparation. And, it just might save you some time in the process.


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