We're gearing up for cellochan, starting September 10. What better way than by exploring some great and effective practice tips from a master performer, Wynton Marsalis: Here are his 12 steps to great practice.
Suzanne's comments in small caps:
1. WM: SEEK INSTRUCTION
Suzanne: "you can't learn the cello from a book or a cd. The many levels, nuances, and traditions are passed from one artist to another over time. Good instruction is clear, compassionate, organized, of a high level of competence, and effective. "
2. WM: MAKE A SCHEDULE
Suzanne: "Be creative. The idea of being locked into a schedule scares some people. The trick is to invent it yourself. Maybe it looks a bit odd to someone from the outside, but if is works for you, that's success. ex: breaking up your practice into several short sessions, or practicing at 2 AM....:). You get the idea. The bottom line is that it flows and is consistent, if varying, and gets the job accomplished over time. Have fun creating a schedule for yourself and work to keep it.
3. WM: SET GOALS - CHART DEVELOPMENT
Suzanne: " Some people think they know what their goals are, but do they really? It takes some thought to clarify exactly what your goals are for the cello. Think about it. Set small goals first if the big picture is unclear and then keep track of whether you actually accomplish it. I can help you with this.
4. WM: FOCUS WHILE PRACTICING
Suzanne: "One of the main goals of cellochan is to teach focus. Notice that Wynton says to focus "while practicing". I think this implies that he knows the level of concentration needed for good practice is of a higher level than we use every day. It has to be worked at. It will get easier.
5. WM: RELAX, PRACTICE SLOWLY, YOU CAN'T BE IN A HURRY IF YOU'RE GOING TO GET BETTER.
Suzanne: " Ahh, here comes one of my favorite Pablo Casals quotes again. "I always practiced as if I had forever"
Relaxation, focus, patience, love of working on the details, and confidence that you will arrive at your goal are all a necessary foundation for success.
6. WM: PRACTICE THINGS YOU CAN'T DO - DON'T REHEARSE YOUR INSTINCTS
Suzanne: "Here I think that he is saying take a deep look at what needs work. Don't play "by the seat of your pants" so to speak. Don't get stuck playing what you can do easily. Good musicians of course have instinct, but here he is talking about getting the skill to access those deeper instincts and refining them.
7. WM: ALWAYS GIVE MAXIMUM EXPRESSION - INVEST
Suzanne: "There is an attitude that is more common than one might think. This attitude assumes that the technical work and the musical work are separate. They are not. When Mr. Marsalis says "always give maximum expression" he means that this will integrate and bring together the many facets of playing. These are: physical, emotional, spiritual, musical. Again, focus is needed to do this. Another way of putting it would be to say, wake up! Be fully present.
8. WM: DON'T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF
Learning the cello is a long journey. It simply can't be enjoyed if one is breathing down one's neck and wincing at every little mistake. Believe me, there will be LOTS of mistakes. Being hard on yourself could be seen as a reverse egotism actually. Just do you job - your best. Accept the results. Take the spotlight off of YOU. Don't invest your total self worth in the cello............the cello is something that you will invent for yourself, it is nothing without you. Just get to work and have the confidence you can do it. I will work with you on this too.
9. WM: DON'T SHOW OFF
Suzanne: " This is the flip side of no. 8. If you're showing off you are not focused and it will derail your playing. It is also the kind of attitude that causes unnecessary suffering to you and others. Should you take pride in what you do? Should you feel the joy of playing beautifully? Of course. There is a difference between showing off and the joy of playing.
(p.s.....here's a paradox for you. A tiny tiny bit of showing off might be ok sometimes.....:) :) Fun is definitely part of playing.
10. WM: THINK FOR YOURSELF
Suzanne: " It is a good think when there is true dialogue between student and teacher. Many students don't think that they can challenge the teacher or have permission to try to come up with their own ideas and solutions. This is a mistake.
The more a student asks questions, tells me what is on his/her mind, the faster we arrive at our goal.
11. WM: BE OPTIMISTIC
Suzanne:" There is no reason not to b e optimistic. With regular practice, good instruction, and normal coordination and intelligence, you can become a fine player. If you are pessimistic, it is you that is supplying that attitude. It has nothing to do with the reality of your talent/abilities.
12. WM: LOOK FOR CONNECTIONS TO OTHER THINGS
Suzanne: "This is perhaps the most complex of the 12 tips. It, I believe, means many things. Everything is interconnected. Look for connections within the music ( repeated patterns) ,connections in your body - how motion in one area affects another area, connections between your emotions and a given note or notes, connections between the music and things you experience in the environment in every day life. This could be a long long discussion!