We often hear that classical music is a sport, and it’s true that there are many parallels. Playing an instrument, like playing a sport, requires body awareness, efficient muscle movement, and endurance. To satisfy my own curiosity about what other people do at the beginning of their practice sessions, this brief series will feature several individuals’ warmup routines. Some people do very little, and some people do a lot. Some people are very structured, while others approach warming up from an exploratory and improvisational angle. Below are my friend Cobi’s thoughts about the warmup process!
To paraphrase Juilliard piano faculty member Julian Martin, we should not need a warm-up period in order to feel technically comfortable at the instrument. Instead, the musician’s physical understanding should be so intimate and familiar that calling upon facility and ease is instantaneous. This makes sense to me; if a pianist cannot achieve a sense of technical freedom every day without a warm-up, how does he or she expect to maintain that freedom in a performance, when one’s physical awareness is blurred by nerves and adrenaline?
One caveat to Martin’s view is the fact that not all musicians have already developed such an indelible and prompt connection to the operation of their technique. Accordingly, it can still be beneficial for many musicians to warm up before practicing, as long as it is done with the proper goals in mind. In other words, as long as we use a warm-up period to improve our understanding of how to call upon the sensation of effortlessness both in general and for a variety of particular technical challenges (rather than becoming reliant upon warm-ups as the only path to that sensation), I see no reason not to warm-up before practicing.
I have never followed any particular routine at the beginning of my daily practice, instead preferring to start with any kind of exercise that suits my current physical state. That’s because I have not found any one exercise or piece that unfalteringly vitalizes my body, arms, and hands. I am still recovering from an injury that resulted from many years of practicing without developing feelings of ease and comfort, and as such, my grasp on technical facility is fickle.
Oh, the things one could do with a Time-Turner… (photo by Victoria)
Hindsight is 20/20. With age comes wisdom. The greatest teacher is experience. Whatever your adage of choice, they all emphasize that life is a learning process. Here are some little things that would have made my life easier if I had started doing them earlier:
Baby Stephen Hough! Awww.
Published a little while ago, but it’s still a worthwhile article to read and re-read: the brilliant Stephen Hough talks about how to approach practicing, and doles out tips that are sage, practical, and concise–a rare and praiseworthy combination. “The purpose of practising is so that we (offstage as engineers) make sure that we (onstage as pilots) are completely free to fly to the destination of our choice. That destination is one involving imagination and creativity and spirituality and danger and ecstasy of course, not merely the A to B of playing the notes, but without the nuts and bolts in place we will never be airborne. The greatest interpretative vision of the final pages of the final sonata of Beethoven will nosedive to oblivion if we can’t play an even trill.” Read the full article here.
What has been one of your biggest practice breakthroughs?
Looking for a way to refresh your practice routine for the new year? A friend sent me a link to this free ebook ages ago, and I just realized recently how great a resource it would be to share on this blog. The author, pianist Chris Foley, takes you through 31 mini-chapters discussing various aspects of practice, such as working backwards, memorizing, and structuring practice time. He’s clear, concise, and practical, and a review of the basic and not-so-basic concepts he discusses is great inspiration for anyone looking to structure their practice time more efficiently!
Not making enough progress in the practice room? Maybe the problem is that you’re practicing for too long–on one thing, that is. In this article on the Bulletproof Musician, Dr. Noa Kageyama explains how a study on practice techniques for baseball players reveals that practicing should be done in very short chunks of time, switching back and forth between multiple tasks, rather than in one long, singularly focused block of time.
In a 1994 study by Hall, Domingues, and Cavazos, elite baseball players were assigned to either the blocked or random practice schedules discussed above. After twelve practice sessions, the baseball players in the random practice schedule hit 57% more of the pitches than when they started. The blocked group only hit 25% more of the pitches, meaning that the random practice schedule was almost twice as effective, even though the two groups hit the same number of practice pitches.
Read the full article here.
How do you manage your practice time?
This Bulletproof Musician article has been making the rounds, and it’s a good one:
Some degree of time and repetition is necessary to develop and hone our skills, of course. But we also know on some intuitive level that to maximize gains, we ought to practice “smarter, not harder.”
But what the heck does that really mean anyway? What exactly do top practicers do differently?
A group of researchers led by Robert Duke of The University of Texas at Austin conducted a study several years ago to see if they could tease out the specific practice behaviors that distinguish the best players and most effective learners.
Seventeen piano and piano pedagogy majors agreed to learn a 3-measure passage from Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The passage had some tricky elements, making it too difficult to sight read well, but not so challenging that it couldn’t be learned in a single practice session.