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On Practicing - Part V, "The Purpose and Method of Practice"

Welcome back! This issue was a bit delayed due to my new duties as a father of THREE… It’s definitely taking time to get used to that but this house has never been filled with so much love and laughter! So, I’m sorry for the delayed post but I’ll try to be more timely in the future. Let’s jump in.

Ricardo Iznaola – “On Practicing” Part V: The Purpose and Method of Practice.

In my opinion, the book should have opened with this chapter. That being said, that’s one of the only negative critiques I have of the text. If you’ve studied with me or read any previous blog posts you know how strongly I believe in the power of goal setting and the importance of ease of playing. So, the following is a direct quote opens Chapter III of the text: “The purpose of good practice is to achieve specific goals while focusing on continuous improvement in quality and ease of execution.”

I’ve talked about both of the above bold and underline topics in previous posts so I won’t talk much about it here, but you should make note of how imperative those ideas are. Back to the purpose of practicing; Iznaola breaks down the purpose of practice into the following three categories:

1. Building time. This is the time you spend working on the fundamental mechanics of the piece: The technique, the memory, the comfort of the hands etc…

2. Interpretive time. This is the time you spend experimenting with phrasing and expression and solidifying the narrative you wish to portray.

3. Performing time. This is when you combine the two areas above and test your ideas in context of tempo and time.

Iznaola makes a great point at the end of the articl. He says that not all practice sessions need to be this “rigorously divided” but that we should always be aware of what type of practice we are engaging. He also says that “fooling around” on your instrument is also a valid option but we should remember that this is not practicing. I often break the type of practice down into three categories for my younger students: Playing, Practicing, and Studying. Iznaola’s “fooling around” is the equivalent of my playing. It’s a great way to get your fingers moving without using much mental effort, but you most certainly do not want this to be the majority of your practice time.

One final note on performing time. I think this can be further divided into two subsequent categories: Full run through and isolated performance. I do not find full run throughs to show significant results other than to test memory in context of a longer performance, to self-analyze the piece as a whole, and to build endurance. I find that an isolated performance of larger sections (i.e. the exposition of a sonata, a variation within a theme and variations, the cadenza from a concerto etc…) with the purpose of analyzing specific, predetermined qualities of the music is a much more efficient use of time and energy. Time is money, right? So make the most of it!

In conclusion, you want to be aware of what type of practice you are engaging. An easy way to do this is to understand your specific goals for each practice session before picking up your instrument. See how we came back to goals? They’re important!

As always, thanks for spending your last 5 or so minutes with me. There’s a lot you could have been doing instead! If you liked this post hit the like button, leave a comment, and share with your friends and students! For your convenience, a link to the book in discussion is provided below. Until next time!

- JB


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