Pre-Practice Preparation

With my travelling here, there and everywhere at the moment around the wide, brown land that is Australia (which I’m actually quite enjoying as it goes) I have to make my practice time with the guitar really count. That’s not to say that my practice prior to my super busy year-to-date wasn’t quality (one doesn’t get an AMusA diploma by slapdash practice!!).

It’s one of those interesting phenomena though that the more one is constrained by time, the more it sharpens ones focus. OK, well maybe it isn’t necessarily one those phenomena – just me! – but the limited time has made me re-examine what I’m doing, how I’m practicing and how I’m preparing for that practice. Especially given I have this goal of sitting for the LMusA diploma at some point in the not too distant future.

So, dear reader, I thought I’d write a wee post for you today on my approach to practice these days before I even pick up the guitar.

Prepare

A bit of preparation and planning can make for optimised execution in a number of areas, guitar practice included it seems! By thinking about and setting yourself up for a decent practice session you’re maximising the time you have available – be it 15 minutes or two hours – and hitting the ground running, so to speak, when you sit down and pick up the guitar.

What do I mean by prepare?

I’m not talking about writing out an action plan or anything like that (I’m trying to become more efficient here, not create more work). I mean thinking about what is that you want to achieve in this practice session.

Actively thinking about what you’re about to start doing and, importantly, WHY is the first step to making your practice time really count. If you have an idea in mind of what it is you want to achieve, then you’re more likely to achieve it! That’s not to say you’ll necessarily achieve your wee goal each time. but you stand a greater chance if you’re clear about what you want. You review what it is you’re doing and tweak the approach perhaps in preparing for your next practice session.

And it doesn’t have to be something big, and it doesn’t have to be a pile of things, that you’re thinking about and focussing on. In fact, I recommend just having in mind one or two things initially that you want to work on, correct, get your fingers around, and so on to get used to this and not overload yourself.

Think outcome rather than time

You’ll find yourself getting into the swing of it in no time. It’ll also help you apply a critical mindset (not judgmental mindset, please note) to how you’re practicing – you’ll find yourself asking questions like “is this what I want?”, “is this how I want it to sound?”, “what do I need to do differently to get the sound/ movement/ legato/ staccato that I’m after?”.

With this approach I’ve also found that time actually becomes less of an issue. I used to stress about “ooh, I’m not doing X amount of hours of practice per day or per week”, but I’ve noticed that being more prepared and more outcome-focused with my practice I’m much less concerned about the amount of time I’m spending (or not spending practicing). Consistency and regularity is still of vital importance, of course, by stepping back and thinking about what I’m doing I’m achieving what I want to achieve but without the self-inflicted pressure of being “bum in seat” for a billion hours a week.

 

So, are you making the most of your practice sessions? Do you know what you want to have achieved by the end of it? Are you just playing through or coasting through? Are you being perhaps just a little bit lazy?! (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, and you’re a big fibber if you say otherwise!)

If you want to start getting some real “bang from your buck” during your practice time, pumping out the improvements and getting your fingers around that piece, then I highly recommend doing a bit of preparation

 

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Classical Guitar Performance – Cutting Loose and Going For It

Cutting loose and going for it. Cutting loose is about letting go and letting the unconscious mind and your muscle memory and all that hard work and practice you’ve been putting in do its thing. It’s about trusting yourself.

What does that even mean when playing guitar? For me at least it means:

  • Resigning conscious control of what it is I’m playing.
  • Being really in the now and present with what I’m playing in exactly that one moment; living for the moment!
  • Not being concerned with the music I have just played and is now past.
  • Not becoming upset with any glitches or imperfections I may have played or thinking how I’d like to play that better and so on.
  • Not judging myself or thinking about what others may think.
  • Not allowing myself to get over-excited when I really nail something spectacularly.
  • Maintaining a calm, confident and centred (not ecstatic, not negative) demeanour when playing; just being.

Here are some ideas to help loosen you up and get you to trust yourself….

Why are you playing guitar? To make yourself and others happy or moved? Or to make yourself feel tense and horrible? Hopefully not the latter or you and I need to have words! Note that I say “make yourself…..” – only you can make yourself feel a certain emotion….Think about that one. And remember why you’re playing in the first place.

Close your eyes when you’re next practicing and really listen it to the sound you’re making. How does it sound? How does it feel to really focus in on your sound in this way? How could focusing in on your sound help you in a performance situation? It gives your conscious mind something to focus on and be occupied with so your unconscious mind and your body can get on with the job in hand (boom boom). It will also mean your sound quality remains top notch.

Practice getting in the zone, and quieting the active, bubbling, bouncing conscious mind and its whirling thoughts. Some daily meditation, or similar mind-body awareness practice can really help with this. I like to do daily Alexander Technique practice with my semi-supine position as it gets mind and body awareness working together – I become aware of both mental and physical tensions and practice noticing and letting go. It’s soooo relaxing…

This one’s for those who are ready to take it to the next level……. Say “bugger it! What is the worst that can happen?!” As special as you are and all that, no one is going to remember your performance in an hours time let alone that you played a B-flat instead of a B (if they even realised!), or that you skipped a section, or that you lost your place because you got excited. I promise you.

Think on it – do you remember any particular moments from the concerts and gigs you’ve been to as an audience member? Maybe a couple, but overall you remember them as fantastic experiences I bet?  People always remember the big picture rather than the little details, so give them a technicolour experience rather than something in muted tones!

And then pull it back a little

And when you’ve got that down pat it’s time to review, revise and perhaps look back a little in the other direction.

Sometimes cutting loose and really going for something may not always be entirely appropriate – Barrios and the idea of high-energy “cutting loose” seems to go well together. With a Bach prelude perhaps the interpretation of “cutting loose” needs to be tempered slightly.

In the act of getting excited and really going for something we may in fact over-egg the pudding and diminish it’s impact. This is then where we need to exercise a little, not restraint – I don’t think our playing should ever feel restrained, do you? – but refinement.

This is where we now work to define the point or range between totally, 100% “safe”, timid and indeed restrained playing and 100% playing by the seat of your pants, super exciting, edgy, risk-taking playing….. I call this the Rogers’ Cutting Loose Scale. Hah hah!

Where do your current repertoire pieces sit on this scale? Is it time to put a rocket up the proverbial backside of some of your playing? Is it time to bring some back down to earth a little?

Ooh before I forget…..

Watch out for a wee announcement tomorrow about an exciting new development for the blog. 🙂

Nicole