Practise Notes

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As my practise was actually rather spectacular yesterday, and not terrible today, I wanted to write a little post investigating what went well and how I might be able to ensure the good times continue.

Monday was the kind of day where just about everything was in my favour – I didn’t have anything on all day long, it wasn’t too hot or too cold to practise at home, I had made a firm commitment the previous evening to make a fresh start, I slept well the night before, I ate well during the day, I planned out every practise session in detail, I was focussed and felt in control, I didn’t have any pain (for me, generally my middle and upper back give me the worst trouble), and so on. I wasn’t in the best of moods in the morning, but I was determined and soon overcame the little dose of the miserables. A walk down to my spot by the river (odd as it may sound, I like to sit on the edge of the footpath with my feet on a large stormwater pipe, watching the motion of the water when the ferries go past) cleared my head, although I fantasised rather too much about getting a pet after walking past the house with the friendly miniature poodles.

I knocked over the vast majority of my tech practise before lunch (tone, i. tech & v. tech) then managed to do another two sessions in the afternoon. I memorised probably a minute of the Saariaho and tackled some of the details in the Takemitsu (multiphonics, a tricky run).

Today wasn’t quite so rosy – I had an Alexander technique lesson at 12pm to break up the day, there were noisy roadworks outside and we had no internet at home so I decided to spend the afternoon at the Con, difficult as it is to get a practise room, and today was also the day our two lovely dogs back at my parents’ had to be put down (they were aged 12 and 18, and the 12-year-old was recently diagnosed with bone cancer and in terrible pain while the 18-year-old was senile, had had a stroke and it would have been just too sad to have him go a week or two after Locket). They were truly the loveliest dogs and everyone in my family is utterly devastated – even my dad shed a tear! So it took me a while to get going this morning…

I have however managed to cover most of my tech groundwork over the course of the day so far, and upon finishing this post intend to grab some dinner and head home for maybe another hour looking at repertoire.

So what did I do right, and what can I do to improve on this? Keeping the morning free for practise every day is, I think, a must. A walk after breakfast and then into the practise room by 9am. Planning out practise sessions – I’m getting good with my tech plans, and creating really clear intentions, but repertoire is always more difficult. I need to do a little more work in that regard. I will get a fan of some description ASAP so that it’s not too hot over summer – I simply cannot practise when it’s Brisbane hot, my hands burn and I feel terribly lethargic. Eating well, as I’ve said once before, is also essential. I could do a little better with grain and legume mixing, and upping the leafy greens. More snacks such as nuts and fruit would also be good. Lots of Alexander technique lying-down, and remembering to change from standing to sitting at regular intervals. Noticing if focus levels are declining, and taking a moment’s break – drinking some water or eating something, or even allowing a little more time for an exercise, or (in some cases a better idea) reducing what I aim to achieve.

I am sure there is much more to be done, but I feel like it’s early days just now. If I can get into a routine, a rhythm, then I can build upon it. But now’s not the time to get overexcited and force too much upon myself. I need so much strength of will and courage just to get to this point!

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3 thoughts on “Practise Notes

  1. Hannah, you seem to lead a spectacularly torn existence between performing, writing, research, and teaching,which I throughly admire as I enjoy a similar exstence. So as you say, structuring one’s life is essential. I’m going to make some suggestions from personal experience.
    Aim to make some working days totally at home. In your case this could mean practising in the morning, having a walk either before or after, teaching in the afternoon at home and then more practice at night or research/ writing/ reading then but do not go out even to the shops. Going for a walk (in nature) can be used for creating solutions for what is not working in practice or doing mental practice to ‘hear’ what is not quite clear in your memory or fingers (described in my book ‘Performance Confidence’).
    Days outside of home can still be used for mental practice by taking your music with you to view over lunch or between other sessions.

    Thanks for recommending my book Hannah (Lary Sitsky and David Pereira
    have written fine reviews for it).
    Repertoire should be exciting and not a chore. I’ll discuss this next time.
    Best regards Carmel Liertz

    • Many thanks for your kind and helpful comment Carmel! I can certainly see what you mean about spending full days at home, I really do achieve so much more when I do that, and I’ll try to be even more disciplined about it (as you say, not even going to the shops!). It’s taking me some time to make mental practise work for me, but I’m really looking forward to be able to do increasingly productive work away from my instrument, especially if I’m feeling tense and things aren’t working so well in the practise room.

      Thank you once again, hope you have a lovely Christmas and new year!!
      Hannah.

      • Dear Hannah I think you are very disciplined … therefore you are allowed to be much kinder to yourself. Have you nutted out some really fine self-affirmations that pop into your head daily? Also positive self-talk cues during practice may be missing (intuiting from the tone in your writing voice).

        What I would now like to suggest is to practice technique less for its own sake but more holistically in relation to your repertoire. That may be a way for you to get really into repertoire …by looking at what is needed in the gènre technique of the piece e.g. slow legato cantabile for breathing (in some soulful Bach perhaps) scale- like passages (classical), leaping/angular style (contemporary) and tonal qualities in impressionistic perhaps. i personally get worn out just listening to your extremely long daily technical regime which sounds like a constant grind. To me it’s no wonder you have little creative energy left to think about repertoire after it. Some teachers you know prescribe incorporating technical practice within pieces-playing – by making creative exercises out of the technical passages. This can actually be fun (playing the technical bits into different rhythms, dotted rhythms then the opposite, chunking and playing faster or slower etc, and also playing all the similar technical phases one after the other to see how they are varied (great for memorisation). Perhaps by taking one theme per day of straight technique and then doing the technique within the pieces may give you a ‘lift’ and assist you to find repertoire to give you the technique. More musical gratification? Then you can play the pieces easily as well. So when short on practice time do what the busy pros do and just play the well-marked technical bits of the pieces to keep them up to scratch. I learnt flute as my second instrument and I used to get very light-headed at times with that Brisbane humidity. Hated it and got loads of headaches not realising I was dehydrating by practising too long at a stretch. So keep up the filtered water during practice and possibly no more more than 45-50 mins practice at a time to stay energised in that heat with a 5 min break for nutrition, or stretching, while reflection on goals etc. Then after another 45-50 mins allow yourself a walk (in some green nature /other drains? ) for trying out your ‘internal’ imagery rehearsal to see how much you have retained from your practice.

        PS suggest you try getting your greens sometimes in a hit at breakfast with ‘photo-nutrient superfood Vital Greens’ – green powder in water (drink quickly) or nicer in watered-down fresh juice. I bet that will make you feel like an armoured warrior!

        Can you detect I adore coaching and mentoring? (Last week a virtual friend said I helped her cure her painful foot with my alkaline-nutrition suggestions!)

        But If music is the joy of life, play on!

        Cheers
        Carmel

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