When the legend that is Vladimir Ashkenazy visited the Purcell School it was a day that all present will not forget. When asked for any advice he would give to student musicians who may be reluctant to practise, the maestro said “Think how luck you are. Think how blessed you are to be able to do something that you love everyday”. That really resonated with me because so many people are trapped in jobs that they hate and that’s the last thing any wants. Also, as a music student who’s hoping to have a career in music, you forget that although the industry is tough, fundamentally we must enjoy and love what we do.
Quality over Quantity
It is so common to hear “I practised 6 hours a day”. I think it’s pretty safe to say that not all our practise is 100% focused and our minds naturally tend to drift. I’d rather to practise less time with great results and more productivity than more practise in which I’ve seen no improvement.
Doesn’t necessarily involve playing
You can practise without your instrument. ways of practising without playing include:
- Analysing & studying the score
- Listening to various recordings
- Researching the composer and the history of the work and similar works.
- Mental practise – I often do this on the train when I have long journeys.
Practise= correct repetition & never give up
A while back, I used to practise and in certain aspects of my playing, I didn’t see any improvement. I’d practise for hours and still make the same mistakes and I always used to wonder why. This was until A wise man once told me “Practise is correct repetition”. It is possible that one can practise how to do things wrong to the point of no return and the correct way seems harder. Correct repetition requires concentration and when you’re practising 4-5 hours a day, concentration can be difficult. Breaking practise into chunks is really vital. I never do more than an hour without a break and usually I have breaks of 15mins-30mins in between sessions. I find that drink water really helps. Somedays we have good practise sessions and others things just do not work. The important thing is NOT to give up.
Practise doesn’t make perfect
One often hears this phrase but I found it to be untrue. we often say this to children in order to encourage them to practise but I don’t agree. Simply for 2 reasons:
i) perfection does not exist and is therefore unattainable. Too many musicians waste time and emotional energy on trying to be perfect. I could happily explore and delve into the etymology of the word perfection and then become very philosophical about it however that’s for this blog post!
ii) In art forms such as music, art literature that so much rely on subjectivity there isn’t so much a definition or standard of perfection. What may be perfect to you may be imperfect to someone else.
That is not to say we should settle for mediocrity. For me it is a case constantly aiming high but not getting bogged down in disappointment. I think a common trait in musicians is that we are by nature perfectionists! Another wise man told me to “Practise until you can’t get it wrong!” and that’s the mantra I go with when I step into the practise room.