Day 42, Working Backwards

Practice: 2.75 hours, Rehearsal: 2.5 hours, Concert: 1.  I didn’t cross everything off my practicing to-do list but even before the concert my lip was hurting so I decided to defer some things to tomorrow.  Originally I was hoping to keep tomorrow wide open but with an audition on Thursday and a lesson on Friday (mutually exclusive repertoire) I’ll need the time. C’est la vie.

Today’s theme was an extension of things I thought about a few days ago re: Mistakes.  No one chooses bad habits because they’re bad but because they’re better than something that came before it, even if they’re not ideal.  As I’m working on changing the way I play sometimes it’s easier for me to identify aspects of my playing that I don’t want to keep.  Yes I am striving to hold an image in my mind of the ~*~perfect~*~ clarinet sound but the tangible is easier to evaluate and work with than the imaginary.

So, working backward from “I don’t want this”, step one can be to Not Do That.  When I Stop Doing That, is everything cool or is something now missing?  Usually something’s missing.  What am I going to fill that brand new void with?  And that’s when my imaginary blueprint of perfection comes in.

Starting by “not doing the bad thing” is useful in a few different ways.  I remember a couple years ago in an Alexander Technique class when I was lying down and breathing in a way that I thought was natural.  I had been told and shown for many years that it’s not only OK to “breathe from your belly” but it’s normal.  Then I figured out that your lungs are not behind your bellybutton and realized that it makes absolutely no sense for that part of my body to be most active when I inhale and exhale.  I had “learned” that there’s supposed to be visible movement primarily from your belly.  When the instructor told me to breathe without moving her hand (which was on my belly) I had no other choice except to breathe directly from my lungs and create movement primarily in my upper chest (where the lungs are!).  By “not doing the wrong thing” the alternative happened to be the right thing!

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Small revelation while listening to a recording I made of myself in the practice room: Try listening back with the volume really low.  That way you get a great “big picture” impression of your own playing.  The little tiny things that few people hear are gone but the arc of the phrase is still there.  In fact it’s almost the only thing there.  It’s the equivalent of listening to yourself from far away.  Highly recommended.
  • I was watching some ‘cellists perform tonight at a concert in an intimate venue.  They were playing some phrase that involved a regular rhythmic up and down bow.  They were almost swaying with the beats, 1-2, 1-2.  I could tell they were getting into it but their movement actually cost them bow length.  By moving themselves and the ‘cello itself, they seemed to be reducing the effectiveness of their bowing.  I don’t know enough about the ‘cello to say “that’s bad” but it did remind me of my own movement habits.  I tend to move a lot when I play, especially solo and standing up.  Sometimes it’s really too much.  And I remembered a metaphor I had thought of for it- excessive movement while playing is like a leak in a tire.  All of the expression that goes towards physical movement could be put through the instrument and into the sound.  It’s wasted on swooping and swaying.  And it’s no less self-indulgent to transform it into sound instead.

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