You are a good student. You practice regularly; you don’t try to cram at the last minute for your recital. So you are prepared in good time, and now you have the oddly difficult task of keeping your repertoire fresh until the recital.
The paradox is that the more prepared ahead of time you are, the more comfortable and confident your performance will be UNLESS you get so bored with your music that you can’t find the emotional energy to deliver a passionate, or at least musical, performance.
So how do you keep from getting so bored with your recital music that you can hardly stand to practice it one more day? The key lies in mixing up your approaches to your daily practice.
There are three functions of your practice when you have finished the preparation stage of practice and you are just polishing it for performance.
First, you want to keep practicing the technical issues so that you can be confident that your performance will have few stumbles.
Second, you want to keep deepening your knowledge of the music. If you are performing your piece from memory, you will want your memorization to be secure. If you are using music, you want to be certain that you won’t be distracted or lose your place on the page.
Third, you want to be sure that your expression of the music has a feeling of spontaneity, rather than feeling stale and uninspired.
When you approach your practice creatively, you can be sure that you will be able to communicate the music well in recital, and you will have fun in your practice too. Here are ten ways to make your practice creative and interesting so you will still have that edge when performance time finally comes around.
1. Turn your harp around. I don’t mean to play your harp backwards. Try moving your harp to a different place in the room, or a different room of the house, or even outside on a nice day. Or just turn your harp so it faces another direction. Whatever change you make to your practice space will give you a slightly new angle on your music and will help prepare you for the less-familiar recital setting.
2. Play along with a recording. Find a good recording of your piece; YouTube is a great resource for this. (This technique works even better if the recording is by a master of the instrument.) Put in your earbuds and play along with the recording. The unaccustomed tempo and musical fluctuations will not only keep you on your toes, but may spark a new idea or two that you can incorporate in your own performance.
3. Have a Detail Day. On Detail Day, you concentrate on playing with clarity, precision and accuracy. Work in small sections, playing quite slowly with a full sound to establish technical security. Detail Day helps you refresh the basic elements of the piece.
4. Practice backwards. When you know the piece with no problems starting from the beginning, why not start from the end? Work by sections, starting with the last few bars and then a few more bars back, etc. This technique helps solidify the end, and if you have your music memorized, it will help cement your reference points.
5. Channel your favorite performer. Your favorite performer exhibits certain characteristics in his or her playing, ones that you admire and wish you could imitate. This is your chance to live your dream. Turn off your ears and your self-criticism, and play as if you were the performer you would like to be. You may find some inner resources you hadn’t imagined you possessed.
6. Change up the tempo. If the tempo of the piece is supposed to be Allegro, imagine what the piece would be like if it were an Adagio instead. How would you change the expression of the piece to match a more sedate pace? Or if the piece is an Andante, what would it be like if the composer had intended it to be a Presto? This fanciful experimentation is fun and will let you connect to the piece in a new way.
7. Play it once – three times. On a day when you are feeling particularly uninterested in your practice, play your piece through once, straight through from beginning to end. Play it through once. Then later in the day, play it through it again. And later still, play it once more, for a total of three times, making your practice quick and easy.
8. Play with flashcards. You should have marked your piece into sections for thorough learning and memorization. Put the numbers of your sections on index cards, mix up the cards and put them face down on your music stand. Turn over the top card, and play the section indicated. This is another way to confirm your knowledge of your reference points, and it makes your practice into a game.
9. Change the mood. Think of three contrasting moods that you could express through your piece. Could your music be scintillating, sentimental, fearful, romantic, lively, restful, serene, agitated, heroic, shy, soothing or something else? Experiment with the possibilities; it will help you be more certain of your original choices.
10. Create a story. Imagine a plot for your music. Who are the characters, and how are they represented in the music? What happens to them? N another day, make up a new story.
How could practice possibly be boring?