This is Part Two of a series of posts about my experiences with the techniques and ideas found in Burton Kaplan's book, Practicing for Artistic Success.
At the end of part one of my book review of Practicing for Artistic Success, by Burton Kaplan, I said that I would be doing a project in my own practicing to try out Kaplan's Basic Work Process, and that I would report back in about a month. It turns out I ran into a little trouble getting that done.
The first of my problems was the result of a tactical error on my part: I chose to undertake this experiment just before the Thanksgiving Holiday. The reason this was a tactical error is that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the busiest season of the year for the freelance musician portion of my career. I typically perform between 25-35 concerts and rehearsals between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. In addition to that, this year I decided to exhibit the Structured Practice Method at the Midwest Music Clinic in Chicago, which meant I would be very busy prepping for the conference, then completely out of commission for a week while there. Oh, and I also volunteered to present a clinic about using the SPM in a private teaching studio in the Midwest Music Clinic Technology Presentations room.
Needless to say, this confluence of events had a negative impact on my ability to spend lots of time in the practice room.
The second problem I ran into was more a result of my misunderstanding how the Basic Work Process works.
At the time I was working on the first post in this series, I was in the midst of several students needing to learn Arban's Characteristic Study No. 6. This study shows up on a lot of college auditions, and I had a few students who were looking to audition for college music programs in the Spring. So, I decided it would be a great idea for me to work through the piece myself. I hadn't seriously looked at it since I was in high school, and let's just say that was a little while ago.
Here's my first journal entry on beginning the project:
So, instead of learning about and evaluating the Basic Work Process, the next two weeks would be committed to becoming aware of and expressing the meaningful musical gestures implied by the notation. While I was a little disappointed to have to change course so early in the process, it's hard to argue with this. Of course starting out by developing a musical understanding of the music makes sense!
I took a video of my first run-through using my phone. Here it is, for your consideration. Please be kind. I've edited it so that it speeds through while I'm marking up the phrasing, but otherwise it is exactly the way I read through the piece for the first time. I also cut the video off at the recapitulation to save some time.
Because of the extreme demands of my schedule over the next several weeks, I didn't manage to get two week's worth of practice in on the study until more than a month had passed! In fact, it took me about 50 days, as you can see from my stats below:
Here are a few highlights from my practice journal entries...
After several sessions, I decided to start chunking out three phrases that were giving me particular trouble. At that point I began using a bit of the Structured Practice Method approach, starting with the problem spots each time, then pulling out for the bigger picture with a run-through, or sometimes alternating one session on trouble spots, then a run-through the next time...
Toward the end of the experiment, I noticed an interesting issue with how I was looking at the part. I love it when I catch things like this in my practicing... simple, actionable items that directly improve what I'm doing, and can also impact everything else I play!
It took me 52 days to build up the equivalent of two weeks of practicing in on the etude. I don't think it's necessary to practice a piece on an absolute daily basis to get good results. In fact, my experience has shown that it's beneficial to spread things out a bit. But this worked out to less than 1 in 3 days, which I think is spread out a bit too much, especially considering that some of the gaps between sessions were significantly more than 3 days. You can only retain so much when that much time goes by without refreshing things.
Even considering the above, however, I felt I had the piece learned too well for it to be a really great subject for trying out the Basic Work Process at this point. For that I have selected some new material to work on, which will show up sometime in the future, in Part Three of this series!
I do think that for me, starting out with a clear focus on the music is a very useful way to approach a new piece of music. As I think about it, it seems so obvious I'm almost embarrassed to say it. But, the fact is, (and I'll bet I'm not anywhere close to alone on this) I tend to fixate on the technical issues when I start in on new music. It makes sense, how can you make beautiful music if you're missing notes and rhythms? But on a deeper level, what good are the notes and rhythms if they're not employed to a musical end?
I'll leave you with the video I made of my final run through. It's not perfect, but I think it is a good representation of what can be done in two weeks using a mostly musical approach to practicing.
I highly recommend trying this approach in your own practicing. Pick something new and dive in!
As always, I'd love to hear what you have to say! Have you tried this kind of approach to practicing? Have you tried other approaches that work better? Worse? Let us all know in the comments below!
One day this past summer I was surfing my Facebook feed and saw an intriguing post from Manny Laureano. Manny is the Principal Trumpet with the Minnesota Orchestra, and Co-Artistic Director and Conductor of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies Orchestra. He also was on the faculty of the National Orchestral Institute many years ago when I was a fellow there. He is a musician, music educator, and human for whom I have the utmost respect.
His post on Facebook that morning talked about a workshop he was going to be participating in: A "Practice Marathon Retreat" for brass players, at the Magic Mountain Music Farm in upstate New York. I did some reading about the retreat, Magic Mountain, and the founder and co-presenter of the workshop, Burton Kaplan. I really wanted to attend the retreat in person, but I had a performance booked that week that I absolutely could not back out of, so I did some research and found the next best thing... the book "Practicing for Artistic Success," by Burton Kaplan.