How to practice?
Short notes by Roberto Prosseda
3. Let the notes play themselves
On the subject of daily practice, in the previous article I spoke about acquiring the total control of what we are doing mentally and physically during a performance. This can be seen as the first phase in preparing for a performance. Once a sufficient automatism has been reached, we can begin, even while studying, to “let ourselves go”, without however neglecting to listen constantly to the results of our performance. By “letting ourselves go” I mean adopting an approach that is vigilant, but at the same time not invasive, with regards the physical aspect of our performance. We can allow our hands, without forcing them, to play precisely following the music that flows from within us: almost as if they were responding not to our wishes but to the music itself, as if we were at once the performer and the audience.
To achieve this approach, it is useful to think of the music as something that happens irrespective of our actions: we have to do nothing other than “let it come out” of the instrument, and our fingers and mind should not offer any resistance. Typical involuntary resistances include unconscious muscular tension in the shoulders, in the abdomen, but also in the feet and jaw: many muscles often contract, especially when we are emotionally tense, out of control of ourselves. If while practising we are careful to maintain a constant and conscious state of muscular relaxation, we will manage to “memorize” this state and be able to recreate it more easily also in a situation of greater stress.
Another type of resistance concerns our thoughts: if during a concert, for instance, we think we might make a mistake in the passage we are about to play, this certainly won't help us attain a relaxed and natural performance. The running of our thoughts, just like the management of our gaze and our attention towards a specific musical detail, are all elements that can be controlled and arranged, so as to make them more functional to a successful performance, reducing the risk of incidents and increasing our calm and awareness on the stage. Vice versa, it can be useful for us to get used, even in the advanced stage of study (that is when we have acquired all the necessary automatisms), to trying out a performance while thinking of something completely different: letting the mind wander, and even keeping it busy with other activities external to the music we are playing (for example, rolling the neck or breathing deeply) can paradoxically make the performance freer and more spontaneous, as it will disactivate the potential interferences of our mind through the automatisms we have acquired in the previous phase of study.
One might object: but in this way won't we lose our concentration? While playing a piece, shouldn't we concentrate on the music, instead of letting our mind wander? The answer is “nes”: our mind is much more complex and capable than we might think, and, as happens in the operating systems of modern computers, various activities and thoughts occur contemporaneously, many of which in the “background”: and often, when we have acquired all the necessary automatisms, if the musical performance is “transmitted” in the background, it will be easier for us to draw it ever closer to our deepest artistic sensibility.