“Go in front of a mirror with your instrument, look at yourself and tell yourself what recipe, from several contradictory elements will make you the best artist. The ingredients are repetition vs spontaneity. Relaxation vs control. Confidence vs humility. After all, technical discipline does bring us artistic freedom. We just have to figure out on any given day what the recipe is to make us the best artist we can be.”
Listening to this interview with the incredible James VanDemark, I was struck by this parting quote. It speaks to several elements that practice parents and eventually young artists themselves cultivate in the practice room.
Playing an instrument exposes players, children and adults alike, to the scrutiny of others. The ability to step out of ourselves in the practice room and consider what we’re presenting to others is a form of self-honesty. “What are my posture and form saying about me and about the music?” “Are my tone, phrasing, intonation, and the countless other details serving the musical intent of the piece?”
Being a keen observer
From early-on, asking questions during practice can cultivate a careful and curious attitude toward music. Later, this emerges as a spontaneous willingness and ability to focus and repeat passages that need attention through repetition. Noticing, the ability to perceive fine details is such an important skill to develop. Helping kids become independent practicers means honing their ability to tune into details.
Technical discipline isn’t punitive
As the parent of a pre-teen violinist, I’ve come to appreciate that a single-minded focus on developing technical obsessiveness isn’t always foremost in her mind.1 But it doesn’t stop me from working on helping to hone her technique in the practice room. Although on some days, it may seem punitive, as Professor VanDemark astutely observes, “technical discipline [brings] artistic freedom.” Only by scrupulously cultivating technique can you hope to play with fluency and reliability on the stage. And a range of technical abilities gives you interpretive options as you approach a new piece.
Most of all, the quote about finding the right recipe for excellence on any given day, reminds me as a practice parent to think about what ingredients I need to support.
I hope you have a great practice today!
The Mind Over Finger podcast hosted by Renée-Paule Gauthier, by the way, is an excellent source of ideas and inspiration for practice. I recommend it.
- I have come to appreciate the subtleties of the various forms of the pre-teen eye-roll. [return]