Always got to start out the practice session proper with some scales.
Well, I say always, but a couple of times a week I’ll kick off a practice session with a play through of a piece I’m working on. Just one play through observing how it feels straight off the bat, being aware of the bits requiring more attention and work. This is also good practice for those times when we’re called on to play with little or no warm-up, or for simulating sitting down in front of and starting to play.
Anyway, back to it.
Segovia scales are a good place to commence. Get the fingers moving, thinking about tone production and touch on the strings and frets.
Time given: 5 mins
Technical Stuff – Right Hand Exercises
Then moving on to some technical work, involving right hand movement and touch exercises, really focusing in on quality of tone and the movement involved in producing that tone. Some Giuliani right hand studies are good for this. My particular favourites are numbers 81 to 90.
Time given: 10 mins
Practice time so far: 15 mins
Other Technical Stuff
I then move on to some other technical exercises that are relevant to technical issues in the pieces I’m playing at the moment – slurs, scales in octaves or thirds, arpeggios are always good too. The new AMEB Technical Workbook has some good little exercises in there to check out.
Time given: 10 mins
Practice time so far: 25 mins
So, after around 20mins of focusing on technical work I will then have a look at a study or two. This is about putting some of those technical elements into a more musical context. My latest studies are a couple of the Legnani caprices; really lovely little miniatures which lend themselves to being study material, whilst also requiring very musical treatment.
Time taken: 10 mins
Practice time so far: 35 mins
Time for a Cuppa!
After the 30 minute mark I often like to get up and get a cup of tea. It’s good to stretch the legs out, rest the hands a bit and refresh ready to start work on the repertoire.
Right! On to the repertoire work!
I’ll give an example from a practice session of mine this week, in terms of its make up of repertoire practice.
Bear in mind though that the time I give to each piece really depends on a number of things:
(a) the number of pieces I’m working on at a given time
(b) whether I have a performance coming up requiring performance of one or more specific pieces
(c) the number of sections or elements within in a piece I feel need work
(d) my time planning for the week – I might not get to look at all pieces I’m working on within one session, but know that I will be able to look at them in successive sessions
(e) whether I’m keeping something “ticking over” or really getting stuck into something more in depth
(f) whether I’m just short on time, like most of us tend to be!
Piece one – Fantasia by Mudarra
This is a piece I’ve been playing for some time, but have just recently, in the last couple of weeks, dug it out again to start polishing up. So I kicked off my repertoire practice, by playing this piece through at about 75% tempo and noting some of the trickier technical elements and being aware of where phrasing was not quite happening as I’d like. I then picked out three specific phrases within the piece and worked on them until I was satisfied I was achieving the sound, phrasing and ease of movement I was happy with.
Now the next I come to play this piece it may not have completely stuck itself into the brain, but will definitely be that much closer.
Time taken: 20 mins
Practice time so far: 55 mins
Piece two – Variations on a Theme by Mozart
This is another piece I’ve been working on for a while now, and I really just wanted to play this one through a couple of times to remind the brain and fingers. Doing this again reminds of which bits will need further work when I come back to look at it in more depth.
Time taken: 15 mins
Practice time so far: 1 hour 10 mins
Piece three – Prelude from Suite BWV 997 by JS Bach
This is a relatively recent addition in comparision with the first two, although I’ve had it set aside “stewing” for a few weeks since I first began working on it. For this one I know exactly the phrases in the piece I want to target so I head straight for them, no playing through. Then I set about working out new fingerings and phrasings for the particular sections in question, playing at about 50% of desired final tempo.
Time taken: 30 mins
Practice time so far: 1 hour 40 mins
Piece four – Vals No. 4 by Augustin Barrios Mangore
This is the piece I played for Slava Grigoryan in his master class last Sunday, so I wanted to play this through and then work in some of the ideas Slava gave me.
Time taken: 20 mins
Practice time so far: 2 hours
And that’s your lot! Two hours of solid practice!
It doesn’t always happen for me that I’m able to do two hours – sometimes I’m lucky to get 45 minutes in, but then again sometimes – only sometimes! – I’m able to get longer than two hours.