Do you need a bridge to take you from practice to performance?
Do you feel like you’re missing something, because no matter how hard you practice your piece doesn’t seem to be “performance-ready”?
You may be right.
We musicians have the idea that if we just keep practicing, we will end up being able to play our music the way we want to, the way we hear it in our heads. So when it doesn’t work that way, we think there is something wrong with us. We double down and work harder.
That’s when those slogans like “practice makes perfect,” and even worse – “perfect practice makes perfect” make us feel defeated instead of energized.
So what are we missing? What’s the secret to taking a piece from the practice room to the concert hall, or even just to be able to play it well at home?
The bridge across the gap is practicing for continuity.
Continuity is what we need to create a flowing, musical, convincing performance. And it is almost never part of our practice. We practice spots and sections and “licks.” We work out the kinks. But we need to develop the big picture and practice it too.
Technical continuity is not just about your technique. It’s about playing the right notes and exactly the right time in the right way. The notes must be even and balanced, played with an appropriate articulation and tone. Technical continuity is about a seamless-sounding performance.
Musical continuity is about communicating your concept of the piece. It’s about how you tell the story. The listener needs to feel the progression from beginning through the middle to the end. The sections of the piece need to relate to each other in a way we can hear. All the details of expression – dynamics, tempo, pacing – join forces to create the musical message.
Bridge the Gap
It seems like a big task, doesn’t it? How do you start creating continuity?
You begin by dedicating some of your practice time to playing through the piece, beginning to end. It’s really the only way you can feel the flow of the piece and it will help you develop the big picture view and the physical and mental stamina to last from beginning to end. This must be a regular part of your practice.
You can play through the piece under tempo but with all the dynamics, or at tempo but at a light dynamic so you can stay relaxed and in control.
You can play backward from the end of your piece, section by section, so you develop a strong sense of the progression of the piece. (This also helps you know the end of the piece as confidently as you probably know the beginning.)
You can create a storyline for your piece and “narrate” the story to yourself as you play. This will help keep the energy in your interpretation.
But the biggest thing is simply to play. Make playing through a daily habit. Think of it as “practicing playing.” Which, incidentally, is exactly what it is.