Make everything a test
This post is a direct follow-up from last Friday’s post, “Two types of practicing”.
Today I’m again drawing inspiration from The Bulletproof Musician, and specifically a post called “When is the Best Time to Start Memorizing a piece for Fast, Accurate Results?”.
I’ll let you read the article for yourself, but I want to highlight some of his practical applications:
The best memorizers began testing their memory much sooner, by trying to sing at least a few bars of the song from memory in their very first practice session. And this self-testing ramped up even more in their second practice session… while the fast memorizers made many more errors in their early practice sessions, they fixed them, and made fewer and fewer errors toward the latter practice sessions. The slow memorizers avoided errors early on by singing from the score, but had more and more memory issues as they began testing themselves in the latter practice sessions, ultimately making a ton in their final session when they were furiously trying to cram the piece into memory.
As I describe in my e-book “Pianist’s Guide to Practicing”, I differentiate between memorizing as just playing without the score, and memorizing implicit cues necessary to perform a piece; by this I basically mean “choreography”. Last post I emphasized that pianists should practice small sections in depth, and my point really is so that they’re building implicit memory early on. They should take risks, they should mess up.
In doing so, they are testing their memory. In my experience, testing my practicing early is essential to guide my next steps. Testing my implicit memory means deciding on a predetermined section of a piece, at a predetermined tempo (one that is reasonable to achieve, but not too comfortable), with a certain set of decided interpretive decisions in place. Then I play the section, and try to execute everything, without stopping, until the end of the section. Then I analyze the results.
It may be messy, it may sound horrible. But I’m testing my implicit memory, and I’m getting a lot of information I use to decide on my next steps.
I’m a huge advocate of active practicing. Too many university performance majors practice passively, without taking risks, without testing wherever they’re at.
"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