Published: Mar 18, 2014 | Category: Uncategorized
The book I have been reading this month is titled “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin (penguin) which led me to ponder to concept of practice. Colvin attempts to dispel the myth that some people are simply more talented in certain areas than others. What he finds, based on the research of music educators such as Sloboda is that “there is simply no evidence of a ‘fast track’ for high achievers” they simply have spent more time practicing. Students at a major music institution in Berlin were divided into categories of top, middle and bottom according to their exam results and performing abilities. The researchers found that by age eighteen, the students in the top group had spent 7,410 hours of their lives so far practicing! This was compared to the middle group who had spent 5,310 hours and 3,420 hours in the third group.
Not long after reading this, I found myself watching the movie “About time”. In the movie, the character played by Bill Nigh says to his son on his 21st birthday, “Tim, my dear son, this is going to sound strange, but there’s this family secret, that the men in this family can….travel in time”. Dr Who has thought of it before, but the significant detail in the movie is that you can only travel in the past within events in your own life. Well, I was thinking, I would definitely go back and do a whole lot more practice before I turned eighteen!
But, what about Mozart? Surely Mozart is a genious!! Colvin finds that “Mozart is the ultimate example for the divine-spark theory of greatness”. Accounts of his childhood relay the incredible genius of his performances and compositions. Realistically, however, by the time Mozart was twenty-one, he had received eighteen years of extremely intensive expert training from his father, Leopold. Leopold Mozart was not only a performer and composer himself, but a very enthusiastic pedagogue and a highly accomplished teacher. His father also edited most of Mozart’s early compositions and the scores were constantly revised. On another tangent, his sister was also a very accomplished violinist; pianist and composer but possessed one major shortcoming of being born a girl! (If you are interested in more of this story, make sure you watch the film “Mozart’s sister”!).
Simply more time, however, is not the answer. “The factor that seems to explain the most about great performance, is deliberate practice…Deliberate practice is also not what most of us do when we think we are practicing golf or the oboe or any other of our interests. Deliberate practice is hard. It hurts. But it works”. Colvin says that in order to do deliberate practice, we need to consider the following questions; “what needs to be practiced”, “precisely how” and “what specific skills or other assets must be acquired”.
Deliberate practice is therefore “designed specifically to improve performance”. After almost twenty-five years of practicing the violin, I still have a love-hate relationship with my double stops (playing two different notes simultaneously). For most of us, our goal is to play a piece of music and most of my favourite pieces inevitably contain double stops. Armed with a myriad of double stop exercises, technical advice from years of training with numerous professors and pearls of wisdom violin the pedagogical literature of Ivan Galamian and Carl Flesch, I diligently sift through my particular double stopping problem of the moment. Inexorably I come to the point where I can no longer help myself to improve and seek the guidance of my professor. My teacher has the fortunate position of being able to see me, as I myself cannot. Your teacher can also help in choosing aspects that needs to be improved, solve problems and can help in “designing your practice” that is also a skill in itself.
In order to make the most of your practice time, it is necessary to be constantly in the learning zone. This means stepping out of the comfort zone of the parts you can already play. For this reason, deliberate practice is mentally demanding, as it requires a great deal of concentration. The parts that need work can be divided into chunks, then each chunk needs to be repeated may times with constant feedback available. This could involve playing in front of a mirror, recording your playing, playing with a metronome, but it is also necessary to have a clear concept of what the end result will be. If you are aiming to be able to play a certain piece of music, always ensure you have a good recording as an example. Use the recording to help you to identify places that need work by not only listening to it, but by playing along with it also. Your ear is your ultimate guide, so pay attention to places where the intonation might need work, dynamics, phrasing and most importantly the SOUND!
There are many websites which can help you find more practice tips like violinistonline at http://www.violinonline.com/practicetips.htm or for a practice timetable visit http://musiciansway.com/downloads.shtml. You can also log your practice in your practice diary or on this website.