The 5 Levels of Practising

I can’t remember if I’ve posted on this before.  It is in fact one of the most misunderstood principles of learning to play.  Get this one wrong and you sound like a learner.  Get it right and you’ll sound professional, no matter at which level you are playing.  It is an attitude thing.

Basically, getting to know a piece of music is like discovering a world.  A fantasy world that will take you on an adventure – if you let it.  And the sheet music is the map to the treasure.

Knowing this gives you power.  Here is a 5-level method of perfecting a piece (& moving beyond perfection to a really moving performance) :

 

Level 1:  Sight-reading

Let’s presume you are starting a piece you’ve never heard before.  You play through it; depending on your ability, you play it note-by-note, bar-by-bar or phrase-by-phrase.

The important thing here is to “get” the melody.  The music is choppy and doesn’t make much sense until you can “hear” it.  Every bar brings new surprises.  You follow the “instructions” of the music, simply play it down and try to listen for the melody and the themes.

Key question:  Where is the music?

Where does the music live at this point?  It lives on the page.  It is notes on paper.

If you stop at this level:

In my teaching I usually guide you through this process in the actual lesson.  But if you then don’t practise at all, that is where your competency stays for that piece, and the next lesson will be a repeat of the previous one.  You will be standing there figuring out note-by-note what is written on the page.  Your listener / teacher will be unimpressed and so should you be.

 

Level 2: Learning the piece

This is when you have spent some time playing the piece.  The pathways in your brain are getting laid down; the sheet music begins to look like more familiar territory.  You are still sight-reading, which means, if I take the music away from you, you won’t know what phrase comes next; but at least it is beginning to flow.

Key question:  Where is the music?

It still lives on the page.  But it is easier to read now, meaning that the page starts to look more familiar.  If the page is a roadmap for the music, you are still consulting the map but you are getting there faster.

If you stop at this level:

Sadly, this is the level where most students stop.  They even perform the music once it has reached the point where they can follow the roadmap more or less fluidly without too many stop-starts.  But the music is far from being yours yet.

Never stop practising at this level.  Go beyond yourself.  You can do better than this.  It is what distinguishes good students and professionals from those who are not that serious.

 

Level 3: Playing the piece with spirit.

You know the “roadmap” but are still using it.  You now know what comes next and are observing all the finer markings too – the dynamics (forte, piano, sforzando), the subtle tempo changes etc. You are capturing the feel of the melody and appreciating the contrasts of the counter-melodies and developments.  This is an enjoyable level; while there will still be one or two technical problem spots, overall the piece “runs” well and is fun to play.

Where’s the music?

The music is now in your head.  You are still using the “roadmap” but you are following all of it and giving expression; you know the piece quite well.

If you stop here:

You will be able to perform the piece quite smoothly and bring across a lot of its spirit.  For most amateurs and many students, this level is fair enough and they stop here; but again, I beg you to persevere.  This is not the end!  You still sound like a student.

 

Level 4:  By Heart

There is a school of thought that says that you don’t know a piece until you know it off by heart.

Yes, I subscribe to that!  As long as the “roadmap” is in front of you, your attention is divided.  When you know your piece off by heart, it is you, your violin and the music.  You are now in a dialogue with your instrument, talking in music.

Where’s the music?

It’s yours!  You own it!  You and your violin are now sharing an amazing time enjoying a piece of music together.  You can do anything with the music now, modulate, change the tone, work on fine detail getting that trill just right, and all that.  The music now lives in your mind and your heart, and in your violin.

If you stop here:

You’ll be fine.  But being asked to perform feels like an intrusion into your private world.  You will play well when you perform, but you will not sound the same as in your practice room, because now suddenly you are self-conscious.

If you are only playing for your own satisfaction, this is where you can park and stay.  But if you are going to perform, it needs one more level.

 

Level 5:  Sharing

You have acquired a precious piece of music that is like a treasure.  Now you need to make a mind-shift.

You are not playing for yourself and the violin any longer; you’re now giving this precious gift to the people who have come to listen to you.  You and your violin now become a medium to bring this treasure of a piece to your audience.

Where is the music?

It flows as a gift of energy and beauty, not from but through you and your violin, to your listener.  If the listener has a grain of musicality, he will be carried away, enraptured.  You are now fully a musician – you are fulfilling your purpose of bringing the joy of the music to others.

If you stop here:

You’re a professional.  At least, where that particular piece is concerned.

 

The musician as a messenger

Remember, we play music for different reasons; to heal, to learn, to focus our brains – or to bring joy to the world.

To heal – you are a therapist.

To learn – you are a student.

To focus your brain – you are a dedicated student.

To bring joy to the world – you are a musician.  The musician is a messenger, carrying a charge of pure energy (the music) to others to uplift them.  I don’t like quoting people when I can’t remember the source, but some great musician (could it have been the famous conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler?) said that music is a vision of a better world.

Music is about giving people a break from their lives and their troubles, and leading them away into a fantasy world.  And you, the musician, are the storyteller, the hypnotist who leads them along the road.

The same road that you discovered when you found the roadmap – the sheet music.

All this work, just to teleport people!  😀

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Restarting in Cobh

First I want to say a very warm thank you to my students and studio parents, as well as my studio friends, in South Africa.

You people are wonderful.  I will miss you sorely and you must come visit.

I am opening the Studio on the 1st of September, at the community centre in Cobh, Cork.  Ireland is different in that there are 2 full months of summer holidays here.  So the structure of the Studio will be different from our well-organized 4-school-term approach.

If you are in Cobh, and looking for violin, guitar or theory of music lessons, look no further.  You have found us.

danni-in-concert

 

 

 

 

Thank you for a lovely concert

Dear Students, Parents and Friends of the Studio

Thank you for an amazing concert last night.

I wanted to hold a speech the way Iain used to, but I’m simply not cut out for this.  We missed him terribly, and his guitarists too.  Nevertheless, we had four (!) hours of music.

Almost Everybody arrived!

The concept we started last year, with having all children on the stage at the same time, works.  A lot of walking on and off was avoided this way.  Furthermore the instruments were safely in the hands of either the players or the parents, which gives a teacher immense peace of mind.

Our youngest player was four!

We also had “veterans” – old students of ours who have long since evolved into performing musicians – gracing the stage with their music, and also friends who had joined our ensembles.

Iain’s “Trad of the Isles” ensemble, after the horrible shock in January which nearly shook it apart, has regrouped.  They played, and gave us some lovely traditional melodies, and are luckily now picking up more players again.  Iain never wanted the music to stop.  They also brought a song that he composed (an E-tolls protest song called “The Highwayman”).  That was very special.  It is a rock song but it was surprising how well suited it is for Trad.

After the concert, while people were having some lovely food (thank you!) in the foyer, some of us just wouldn’t quit the stage.  The acoustics of that place are so alive!  We “duelled” parts of the Bach Double Concerto for 2 violins, doing “doubles” like in tennis, with 3 violins and an oboe.

 

More pictures and vids will hopefully come in through the week. I will post them once I have them.

In total it must have been one of the longest concerts we’ve had yet.  We usually aim to keep them under 2 hours, but in this case everyone wanted to bring a tribute…

Thank you.  It is deeply appreciated.

 

Restarting the year

Dear Students & Parents

Thank you for your solid support during this difficult time.

Lessons have restarted and are going on at the usual pace.  I will work out individual schedules with each of you who have lost lessons due to the tragedy.

We have 1 potential venue for a Ceilidh, and we have 2 potential guitar teachers, for the guitar students who wish to continue with lessons at a referral. Please, guitarists, do come to our Ceilidhs still, and if you can, our concerts.  It would be empty without you!

We also have taken aboard a piano teacher who is prepared to drive out to students.  Please message me for details.

Arts at Sussex has kindly offered their venue for the Junior Orchestra, on Saturdays.  This is accepted gratefully.

Iain would not want the music to stop!  Please keep on practising.

Love.

Your teacher Lyz

2016-ceilidh-pic-robiniain

Terrible news

Dear Students.

My husband Iain was shot in a house attack last Thursday.

There will be no lessons this week, violin lessons will resume next Monday (30 January).  Sorry about the factual tone, I need to arrange things.  Please message me rather than call, it is easier from many angles for me.

Your teacher Lyz