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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Practise Alone Does Not Make Perfect

Progress is measured by quality, rather than the quantity of time dedicated to it

The scene is a familiar one imagined and sometimes witnessed by musicians and non-musicians alike: the aspiring virtuoso crouched over his instrument practising for hour after hour, day in and day out. As we peek in at the doorway of the studio with a nod of amazement, we all wonder and admire the determination, the patience, the sheer endeavour required to reach the highest echelons of instrumental accomplishment. Artur Rubinstein the pianist said “If I don’t practise for one day I notice it, if I don’t practise for two my friends notice it, and if I don’t practise for three days the whole world notices”. Andrés Segovia claimed he practised five hours every day, although I don't know quite how he managed that while travelling during his endless world tours.

Maybe, in the light of the above comments from illustrious musicians the best advice we can offer to the young musician is to be prepared to dedicate many hours to his or her craft. But will it be enough to achieve excellence? How many have not quite managed it, even after extreme dedication? Are there other qualities necessary apart from a natural pre-disposition? What did Rubinstein and Segovia bring to their practise which turned them into the special artists they became?

“ It matters not whether we repeat a phrase ten times or a hundred times if we do not learn something from each time that we do so”

Franz Liszt the pianist gave us a clue when he said “if you can play a phrase slowly ten times in a row correctly, then you can play it at any speed you like”. Although this sounds rather optimistic to many a mere mortal, it is very good advice. The key word is slowly. It tells us something about the type and quality of the practise, for that is what matters. It matters not whether we repeat a phrase ten times or a hundred times if we do not learn something from each time that we do so, so as to improve it the next time.

The hardest thing is to practise slowly and to observe what needs correcting or improving. Once those hurdles are overcome a player improves hugely. Many students do not and cannot find the patience or discipline to practise slowly, nor do they observe and listen with sufficient detachment to correct their errors.

Even when the practise speeds up to performance speed the student has still to understand how best to improve his playing, and how best to use his practise time. So we come back to our guitarist, pianist, or violinist friend, practising away five, six, seven or eight hours a day. How much of that time is being well spent? And how much has been wasted in the wishful thinking that he inevitably will reach the goal simply by sticking at the practise for long enough?

Practise is a journey towards the unknown that pushes at the barriers between the possible and impossible. The destination is uncertain, for a student can never know how good he can become until he or she embarks on that journey. It includes not only improving technique but also interpretative and musical skills, which is why the quality and thoughtfulness of a student's practise is so important.

If you are an aspirant professional or a dedicated amateur ask yourself some of the same questions above. They may lead you to a new and more profitable way of practising, and so turn you into a better player.

Read more:

My blog: 10,000 Hours' Practise Makes Perfect posted 7th August 2011

My blog: A Practise Session In Three Parts posted 23rd October 2011

Andrés Segovia: An Autobiography

February 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1003 .
© 2019.

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