Musicians’ Foundational Guide to Effective Performance Practice .
Reconnect with your natural musicianship, free expression and ease on stage!
Engage in Creative Thinking & Problem Solving
Choose Appropriate Practice Strategies: What are you practicing for and which strategy would be most effective to achieve the result you seek?
Do you know how many students and clients of mine have a preferred method as a practicing strategy? … All of them.
Can you guess which strategy is the absolute preferred one by most?… Yeah… I am sure you guessed right: practicing slow and with the metronome.
Now, don’t take me wrong, practicing slowly and with the metronome is golden, just not for everything, as you can imagine ;-)
For example, if you want to improve the speed of a fast run, you could get faster results by actually practicing even faster than the set tempo. Can you imagine an athlete training by running super slow to improve his sprint time?
Or a dancer jumping very slow to improve the accuracy of their landing in preparation of their performance?
And yes, there is a time and place for that kind of practicing, but guess what: in most cases, you are already past that stage and it’s time for you to embrace the true level of skill and competencies you actually inhabit.
A little context about the stages of competencies. According to this model there are 4 consequent stages in which we move through when learning a skill.
It starts with the Unconscious Incompetence stage: we don’t know something and are oblivious to the fact that we don’t know… awww… blissful state :)
We then become conscious we actually are not that good at something…oooouuuuuch! Conscious Incompetence stage.
We then, with conscientious practice, understand how to perform a skill, however demonstrating the skill requires hard concentration and heavy conscious involvement to execute it… music and artistry ‘bye-bye’. This is the Conscious Competence stage.
And finally, ta-da!! …Unconscious Competence stage: we have practiced a skill sooooooooooooo many hours that it has become totally natural, like walking or talking. We can execute a demanding technique and be free to express our musical vision. This is the stage you need to be in for optimal performance.
Except… it really depends how we have engaged in practicing a particular skill if we get to this stage or not…
If our practice has been focussing on strategies more appropriate to the Conscious Competence stage, there is little chance we get to the stage of freedom and accuracy needed for optimal performance.
Does practicing slow and with the metronome ring a bell here?
My experience is that all, but really all the wonderful students and, of course, professionals, I have worked with are in or ready to engage in the Unconscious Competence stage. However most of them practice with the Conscious Competence mindset.
So, what to do?
Practice #2: Creative and Effective Practice Habits
1.Evaluate your practicing habits:
- Read back your reflection on the first practice and decide: Which interior and exterior elements of your approach to practice and performing are supporting you to develop the Unconscious Competence Stage (and optimal performance) and which might be actually limiting you by reinforcing only the Conscious Competence stage?
2.Engage in performance enhancing practice
- Which new habit do you think would support you most in solidifying the Unconscious Competence stage?
Here the 7 performance enhancing practice habits I found most effective:
- Train Optimal Performance State:
- Start your practice session with a short mindfulness or centering practice. This will train your mind to get used to the silence and specific focus typical of a performance.
- Practice ‘Vocalization’ (the first of the 3 steps of my model for practicing, the other 2 being ‘Articulation’ and ‘Performance’).
At a slow to medium tempo practice a passage making sure every note and the whole of your body resonates freely. You are ‘thinking-free’ and focus solely on sensations.
Planting the seeds to mindful performance (aka: performance resilience)
- Strategize your Approach
- Be very clear about what you want to improve, which strategy you’ll use to get there and evaluate the result. If not satisfactory, change strategy!
- Practice ‘Articulation’. Choose how you’ll articulate a passage and strategize the ‘how to’. I personally loved to have many different versions and choose at the moment of the performance. (more or less air, bow speed or pressure, vibrato type or no vibrato… you get the drill)
- Analyze like Pro
- Be specific about what goes well and what does not. In detail. If something doesn’t come out the way you wanted it, ask yourself what exactly did not go well and what caused that result? And keep asking those questions to get to the core and root reason of why you got the result you did. Then you’ll know for sure what to do to ensure a better outcome next time. Or, at least, a different one. And even more importantly: be as curious as to why something went well, so that you’ll be able to recall it on demand.
- Create the result you want to achieve first in your mind, the motoric will follow, not the other way around! Great conductors are always in front of the orchestra, not following it… In the same way you want to make sure you are the creator of the result you want to hear. From envision to manifestation!
Also… I am sure that when you get out of bed, you don’t go like “mmm… let’s see how walking (or talking) goes today”, you just assume and trust it’ll be just as it was yesterday.
Give yourself credit and trust you know how to play your instrument.
- Cultivate Curiosity
- Organize tryouts and opportunities to test your way of working with a beginner’s mind. Practice performing with fellow musicians and, do I dare say it, … share with and learn from each other! Just make sure the norms of engagements are clear to everybody and state clearly what specifically you want feedback on.
Ps: If you would like me to assist you in these tryouts… drop me a note, I’d love to connect and support you and your group.
- Be willing to explore and test your strategies in low key performance to start with (for example those tryouts I was talking about…) You learn by trying things out in performance and evaluating what needs attention from your own and fellow travellers’ feedback – just like to get the perfect dish you need to cook and taste it, and try again adjusting what needs to be.
- Be realistic about your goals and expectations. How do you decide when your result is good enough? Do you expect CD recording perfection (yes? guilty as charged?… no worries, you are most certainly not alone). Set a realistic goal, knowing you’ll be in development for the rest of your life. Luckily… or, can you imagine the boredom otherwise?
- Articulate and own what you are good at. Yes, you read correctly… You need to know what you already can do and what truly needs attention…you need to see if your practice strategies are actually working. And you need to build your confidence by appreciating what already is in you.
- Be kind to yourself. Transform your inner critic in an encouraging coach. Can you imagine telling your best friends all the time and only what they are doing wrong? How long do you think you’ll stay friends?
And… which thoughts do you think they will have as they approach a performance? Right… so, make it a habit of engaging in a non judgemental inner talk and write 3 things you did well after EACH practice session.
Not sure what’s ‘right’ for you? You can book a free 30 minutes exploration session with me. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org