Practice: 3, Rehearsal: 2.75, Class: 1.5. Written out like this, my day kind of looks a bit slacker-y. Where does that extra time go? Sitting my car? Getting distracted by the internet? Taking breaks? Who knows. I would have made it to four if I had made it out the door before 8am as I planned, or if I had skipped coffee with a friend or skipped visiting the post office… Any one of these things, actually.
The amount I practice is usually directly proportional to the amount of “new” ideas I have about practicing. It’s also a good way to know that I’m not just cheating and writing this blog without doing the work. :) The first two hours or so are usually just rehashing what I know and doing the grunt work of improvement: slow practice, revisiting excerpts that now have new aspects to them, reinforcing new habits, etc. Basically just maintenance work. But the third and fourth hours are when I’ve run out of stuff I “have” to do and start to play new rep or explore very different ways of doing music I already know. Like Mozart. I know that freaking piece. But my last hour tonight was spent only on about the first 8 or 16 bars, playing with my embouchure, my tone production, and what’s going on in my neck when I form an embouchure. Really detail-y stuff. Earlier I was thinking about the “molecular level” of improvement. Point A of good to Point B of better. Here’s a brain-dump of ideas I had to that effect:
- “Don’t practice what you can play, practice what you can’t play.” – Christopher Seaman. Good advice. It can be tempting to just play what already sounds good.
- In order to know what you can’t play, you have to be honest with yourself. A good indicator for me of not being able to play something is that I won’t like it. Emotionally. “I don’t like that part…” Probably because I suck at it! This works well for preparing excerpts. Which excerpt would I least prefer to begin with? Better work on that one.
- Tangential to this is the idea of picking repertoire that challenges you. To know what challenges you, you have to know your weaknesses. The truth only hurts if you avoid it! Embrace it.
As an extension of honesty I started thinking about consciousness. There was this one notey passage in Barber’s Summer Music that I was practicing and I noticed that when I was playing it my attitude was to just “blow through it.” I was also closing my eyes. At first I convinced myself that I was doing that so I could focus more on the sound, but later decided I was trying to just rush through it when the passage really needed the opposite treatment. This was eerily similar to things I sometimes do in an audition when I’m nervous. Everything can seem to “fly by” and sometimes I feel like the audition is “happening to me” rather than being in control of it. It was scary to see this kind of attitude in my practice because it’s absolutely not something I want to reinforce.
The flip side of that mental state is mental “slowness”. If, when I’m nervous, things appear to speed up, why not just try to make them slow down? I experimented with this a bit in a recent audition and it seemed to have positive results.
I took a step back from this and thought about what this means from the perspective of consciousness. When things are going “fast”, detail is lost on every level: rhythm, notes, pitch, intonation, everything. When things are “slow” or “relaxed” (mentally, not literally in the music) more detail can be observed. It kind of reminds me of being in a state of flow or being in “the zone.” In the zone it’s almost like there’s no time at all, or rather there’s time enough for everything and anything. The whole world moves 20X slower than I do so there’s just no hurry. This to me is a state of consciousness that is really a byproduct of focus. Am I focused on just finishing the darn thing? Or is my focus on the music itself? The whole journey/destination thing. In practice at least, this is yet another case for playing slowly. Not just for physical coordination but for my own personal awareness of detail.
Also today I had a terrific Alexander Technique class. It reminded me about my relationship with things around me. Don’t go to the clarinet, bring the clarinet to you. Replace clarinet with laptop, table, stand, audience… and it still works. :) On a finer level this reminded me that I don’t have to force every reed to play. Instead I started with me, my embouchure, my posture, the way I want to use my body to play the clarinet, and then decided if I was using the right reed. I went through a few before I found one that didn’t require that I PUSH the air to get close to the sound I want. This was a major breakthrough. I still believe in that adage by Gordon Jacobs (famous tubist) “Play by sound not by feel.” But it shouldn’t override the fact that if you feel like crap you WILL sound like it too! Alexander Technique continues to help me feel and sound better each day.