My Winter Term Project this year, as I briefly mentioned in my November blog post, is intensive practicing in preparation for my senior recital. With the end of Winter Term soon approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the progress I have been making so far, as well as some important lessons I have learned throughout the process!
I was pretty burnt out by the end of the fall semester (which is why I didn’t end up writing my usual monthly recap post for the month of December), and it’s been a little challenging to get back into the groove of practicing consistently every day, but I’m trying to take it one step at a time. I recently came across a TikTok that helped me reframe my thinking around not only practicing but also getting other things done, such as working out at the gym or running errands. Often, we think of these things as one action or one step when, in fact, they involve a number of steps to be properly carried out. For example, working out at the gym requires you to change into workout clothes, find time in your day to go to the gym, actually get to the gym, etc. All of these components lead up to the goal of working out, so the most difficult part is often not actually working out — it’s just that there are several steps you need to take before you can do so. Getting there in the first place is one (and often the most difficult) step and working out is a different step (I have now used “working out” so many times it sounds funny). I have been applying this to my practice sessions, so instead of thinking about needing to go practice and feeling overwhelmed, I make it my priority to simply leave my apartment and walk to the Conservatory. Then, since I am already there, why not get some practicing done?
During my practice sessions, it’s been quite helpful to listen to recordings of myself playing because they allow me to notice certain things I didn’t realize I was doing or not doing. It gives me the opportunity to take a step back and to observe my own playing through a more objective standpoint. Setting small, feasible goals has also been helpful. Instead of thinking, Wow, I need to practice this entire piece! (which can be overwhelming because I don’t quite know where to start), I try to break things down into smaller parts. For example, in a given piece, I might mark the 5-10 sections that need the most work, with each section being no more than 10 measures long. This way, there are a number of individual, specific tasks that I know I need to focus on during that practice session, and it becomes much easier to practice efficiently and intentionally. Having some broader (but still relatively specific) goals (e.g., “Be able to play movement 3 of this piece by memory by the end of the week”) has also been helpful because they remind me of the bigger picture and provide me with a sense of direction as I practice.
Yesterday, I performed a movement of one of the pieces I have been working on in studio class (my piano professor has been arranging studio classes during Winter Term to give students opportunities to practice performing). One of the reasons I appreciate having the opportunity to practice performing — particularly in studio class, which is meant to be an important learning environment in which students perform for each other and get to receive and/or give constructive criticism from peers — is because it can highlight things that would otherwise go unnoticed in the practice room.
In the comfort of a practice room, the stakes don’t feel as high and there isn’t typically an audience watching you. You don’t feel as nervous because if you make a mistake, you can stop and work on it until you get it right. However, when performing, you get one shot to present the music to the audience in the best way you can, so it feels a lot more nerve-wracking — I struggle with performance anxiety, so I have been trying to become more comfortable performing in front of an audience, which will be especially important as I continue to prepare for my recital! Nerves can also lead you to blank out on stage (terrifying!), make mistakes you never made before in the practice room, and magnify any weak spots. Noticing those weak spots and areas that are not as secure (with regards to the specific piece you are playing and/or your musicianship in general) is an important step in helping you improve as a musician and a performer.
The next time I perform this piece in studio class, my main goals are to be able to play it more securely by memory, to bring out the contrast between the various musical motifs featured in it, and to deliver a more convincing performance overall. I will report back on my progress after Winter Term ends!