Before a caterpillar can transform into a butterfly, it must create a chrysalis. While inside, it deconstructs itself into a gelatinous substance, which resembles neither a caterpillar or a butterfly. If when a person practises, another person can recognise what they are playing, then the practise is not slow enough, and likely to be simply playing the piece of music, which is not practise.
One of the first articles I wrote for this site was The ‘One Week’ Challenge, two years ago – time really flies – where I outlined what I expect from my students from one week to the next. That part of the process, 'week one', is metaphorically the caterpiller deconstructing itself. This part, week two would be the rebirth as a butterfly.
The point of the exercise is to inspire and incite a readiness to pick up and rehearse material, regardless of what it is and the perceived result, based on a timeline for initial practise.
There is no difference in how we, as musicians, approach repertoire at pre-grade standard, right up to professional standard. The only real experienced difference is confidence in ability, which manifests as speed in execution and assured performance.
A beginner will take a large amount of time to play even the simplest of pieces, if only because they lack confidence and skill in fundamental concepts, such as note identification, technical dexterity, and pulse. A seasoned veteran will possess these skills, to such a high standard, that to the beginner, it would seem almost, magical. These challenges bridge this gap.
In The ‘One Week’ Challenge, the focus is not to make music. “What!?”, I hear you exclaim, “We are not trying to make music?” You are most certainly not; at least not in the first instance. Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your piece of music performance. The first time you play anything, you are trying to understand it and what you need to do.
As stated in my previous article, after one week doing anything, there is at least some familiarity, understanding and proficiency in the task, providing that is the point of the exercise. When we enter the second week, our focus is confidence.
I try not to use this word as I consider it dangerous language, particularly to a person’s music making. Most people do not need help “going fast”, this happens naturally, because speed is confidence, and confidence will arrive once all doubt is removed. The problem is arrogance, or ‘false-confidence’, which is what we hear when a person plays everything at ‘warp-speed’, despite not being able to fully do so, simply because to them, “it sounds better that way”.
For a moment, I would like to explore arrogance with you. Arrogance in music, or in general, is believing that you do not need to do something because … reasons. If at any point, you refuse to count, you refuse to go slowly, you refuse to listen, you refuse to look at the note you need, then you are exhibiting arrogance, and your music making will always suffer as a result. I implore you to reflect on what I have said, if this applies to you, then consider this:
“If it was not important, would it be mentioned so frequently? If everyone else who existed before you needed to do it, why is this an exemption?”
Week two of the challenge is reserved for authentic confidence. If we can agree that the first impression of a skill is the impression with lasting effects, we can agree that by this point, mistakes are not easily corrected; not impossible to correct, but require a considerable amount of effort to do so.
I often make judgement calls with my student’s performance regarding this. Do I correct this minor detail that was missed, and risk creating an issue regarding the whole? Or, do I let this minor issue stand as it is, and alert them to it after the fact as an exercise in efficient practise? I always try to accommodate the human being in front of me, but more often than not, the latter is pursued.
If this methodical, ideology is rehearsed, that being, slow accurate practise, counting and moreover caring, with frequency, over a large duration, a habit will form; a good one. Before long, you will not be playing slowly at all, and sight-reading will be a skill in your toolkit. Any music within this musician’s capability will be confidently executable in a two week period. After which the focus will evolve from practise to performance preparation; memorization and an assured performance, The 'Long-term' Challenge, a pursuit we all endeavour to complete.
Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball. A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.
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