Principles of Practice via Classical Music Techniques, Part 2: Rehearsal

In my last piece, I spoke about the techniques I used to practice problem areas in musical pieces I worked on. I closed by mentioning that solving those problems out of context was not the same thing as successfully putting the solution into play. Recontextualizing the solution was a completely different skill. The process I used to achieve that recontextualizing I've chosen to call rehearsal.

Simply trying to plug the problem section back into the piece didn't work. I'd either make mistakes in sections I considered "solved" (especially as the problem section approached) or else all of my practice would fall apart once I got into that section.

Rehearsing entailed properly setting up the section where the challenge lay. I'd go back a certain number of measures before the challenging part and play up until and through that section. I'd aim for a certain momentum before I reached the section in question. Note, by the way, that "momentum" and "tempo" aren't synonyms. Generally I rehearsed at a tempo substantially lower than performance tempo, and often lower than what I had attained as my practice tempo. What I sought was the confidence and smoothness that momentum brings. In essence, the lead-in was almost a ritual to prepare myself for the problem section. Over time, this process brought the problem section back into the rest of the piece. It smoothed out the break between "stuff I can comfortably play" and "stuff I struggle with."

Sometimes at the end of my practice sessions, I'd go back and rehearse pieces that were already solidly in my repertoire. Optimally, I'd play them start to finish, but with the same approach I outlined above, that is, trying to create a certain momentum. These days, I might describe that process by saying that I was practicing grooving success.

And here is where I have to admit that, in music, I neglected that aspect. Practicing problem areas I could handle. Rehearsing the transition into a problem area, sure. But the path into learning to make actual music with my music was a real weakness of mine, if that makes sense. I sought technical perfection and would focus on that. Practice dominated my practice sessions, to the detriment of my pleasure in the endeavor and, ultimately, my greater success. And it's here that I really want to break with the past. Practice and rehearsal are wonderful and necessary, but at some point you have to perform, and at some point you have to play.

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