How to practice?
Short notes by Roberto Prosseda
1. What does “practicing” mean?
For most musicians, practicing is the activity that takes up the most time in their lives (after sleeping). It is precisely during the practice that we determine our own future: a successful concert or exam are, in fact, nothing but the natural consequence of a well-conducted praticing. Conversely, a disappointing test, or an bad public performance, is almost always caused by a lacking of preparation, or by a not well done practicing.
Of course, practicing is a very private and personal activity, and every musician has to manage the methods according to his habits and propensities. However, it is essential to have an awareness of what we do during the practicing, i.e. to know clearly what our goals are, to check the progresses made and to focus on what we still need to improve. For this reason, it is essential to maintain a constant concentration on what we do during the practice, and on the results that derive from it.
The Latin word “stadium” has three meanings that are particularly pertinent also to the study (practice) of a musical instrument.
1. Care, diligent and prompt attention. Obviously, even in the study of the instrument, an approach based on “care” is fundamental, that is, on taking care of every detail, both of the score and of our way of playing. From this derives, therefore, an awareness of our listening, understood in a double sense:
- listening to our body, that is awareness of the muscles, of the parts of the arm and of the hand and of the arrangements we use to perform a certain passage;
- listening to the sound result of our performance, for a continuous comparison between our musical intentions.
2. Aspiration, desire. This is also an indispensable element: only a practice driven by the passion and our desire to get closer to music can justify the hundreds, thousands of hours we dedicate each year to the study of an instrument. Yet we often hear students studying without enthusiasm, just for duty, sometimes even unwillingly. This is to be avoided: if the practicing is not “enthusiastic” and motivated, it risks damaging us and moving away from the music.
3. Natural inclination towards a particular activity. This is also an important factor: I am sure that all those who spend a lot of time on the practice of a musical instrument feel an inner movement that drives them to play. It is good, therefore, to be aware of this, to feel our "natural inclination" and to support it: in this way, the practice will acquire a higher value and will be more pleasant, intense and effective.
In Italian, the word "studio" has multiple meanings. The Treccani dictionary reports, among the many, two meanings that seem to me particularly important as regards our study:
1. Application aimed at learning what has been experienced by others in a branch of knowledge, in an art, in a practical activity, in order to make these experiences their own, and eventually overcome them, proposing new solutions in the theoretical field or practical. Therefore, experimentation must be an integral part of the study. Once you have acquired the skills to make the execution of a score your own, it is important to go beyond what has already been achieved by others, with alternate tests and comparisons, even making mistakes and testing our technical limits.
2. In the figurative arts, drawing executed as research of techniques and compositional forms, or as preparation (especially of details) of definitive works. Even this sense of study is perfectly applicable to instrumental practice: before defining an interpretation, it is very useful to work with "sketches", experimenting with different versions of the same pieces, to be able to give an account of our possibilities and then choose the version that most corresponds to our feeling. Only by comparing various options is it possible to obtain a result that goes beyond what we already know how to do. The practice, therefore, can also have to be a stimulating, compelling experience that leads us to continuous new discoveries and conquests.