At some point in my undergraduate years, my teacher began forcing me to count out loud while I played and practiced.
This was incredibly difficult at the time. She of course wanted me to become aware of my poor rhythm, or unstable tempo. But it seemed that counting out loud just exaggerated the problem. I could either count out loud, or play, not both.
But she was insistent! I imagine now that I had one or two lessons where most of the time was spent with me struggling to count out loud (because I was stubborn and didn’t try it in the practice room during the week!). If my counting drifted off, she’d stop me. If I counted incorrectly, she’d stop me. If I played incorrectly, she’d stop me. We would repeat and repeat endlessly.
I’m so glad for her stubbornness!
Eventually I was able to do it, and it’s an indispensible part of my practice toolbox. I found once I got it, it’s been easier since. I don’t even use this just to fix tempo or rhythmic issues: it’s more about having a metacognitive awareness of the piece. By multi-tasking, my sense of time is sharper, but my technique is more independent, and I listen much better than I ever have.
Those weeks of struggle forced me to transcend passive practicing and cultivated greater awareness of my work. Adding my voice to practicing led to me singing while I practiced (more on that in tomorrow’s post), and helped me collaborate, as I could be more attuned to the rhythmic events outside of my own playing.
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act