Practice is a means to an end, playing well, and it is a vital component to reach that end. I don’t think I have ever met a musician who I thought was a great player who didn’t practice and practice effectively.
When I first went to conservatory I would stumble around in awe of all the amazingly talented people I was surrounded by. They seemed like a different species to me. After a while I was able to hear some stratification of ability between these brilliant musicians and I noticed that the better ones (in relative terms they were all amazing players) practiced a lot and practiced effectively.
Regular practice is the key to the door. If you don’t do that you can’t even gain entry to the temple of Euterpe but to really become good, Manuel Barrueco good, you’ve got to practice effectively. It’s not enough to just punch the clock and lather, rinse, repeat. Getting better demands that you pay attention to what and how you practice too.
Identifying specific element that you want to improve is important whether it’s a technical element or a piece. If you keep practicing that thing you can do well you’re not getting much return on your effort. There’s less room to get better there than there is working on things you can’t yet do so well.
This happened at conservatory too. I would hear the halls echoing with someone banging out a Rachmaninov Prelude and sounding great, but after a while you could notice the same musician playing the same piece over and over. Sometimes a few doors away you could hear another musician trudging through arpeggios or working on a technique like their trill. It didn’t sound so impressive but it served them better in the long run. Being great at playing one thing is no bad thing but it’s not the same as being a good musician.
Practicing is not the same thing as playing. Cranking through your repertoire of pieces isn’t effective practice. It won’t do you any harm, but to build a strong foundation of facility and technique requires thought about who you are and where you are as a musician. Try to identify where you are now as a player and where you want to get to. What can’t you do yet as well as the players you admire? That’s where to put the effort in. Continue reading Become a better musician: No substitute for practice