If you are an experienced performer looking for a new perspective on practice then Passionate Practise by Margaret Elson could be just the book for you. I was drawn to this book by its subtitle “The Musicians Guide to Learning, Memorizing and Performing” and expected to read about some methods and techniques for practicing. Whilst the book skirts around the issue of practise it does provide some thought provoking ideas on relaxation and dealing with performance situations.
Margaret Elson is a classically trained pianist having studied for 10 years at Julliard. What sets her apart from others writing about practise and performance issues is her background in counselling and therapy ” she is a qualified psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. This background is clear from the constant references to thought and relaxation.
Elson expounds a sensory approach to learning arguing that learning is maximised when all the senses are engaged. Therefore she argues to learn quickly you should not only hear what you are playing but also see and feel it. Remembering how something makes us feel she believes will help us learn and memorise the music before us. To emphasize this point Elson suggests an eight point sensory system to focus on each of these.
Throughout the book Elson returns to the subject of relaxation or what she refers to as the “R/A” state of mind (relaxed and aware). She discusses techniques such as “Calming Light”, “Puppy Dog Hands” and “Magic Carpet”. Of particular use is the suggestion that the performer alternate between playing small sections of music (a single bar) and relaxing thus preventing a build up of tension. Some might also find the “Deep Relaxation” and “Visualisation” techniques useful.
On the subject of performance Elson offers some useful advice. Regular readers of this sight will already be familiar with some of these from our “Prepare Properly” method. An idea introduced in this book is that there will always be some form of distraction during a performance and that you should therefore employ a friend/family member to be a mild form of distraction during your practise performances.
My favourite nugget of information from this book was what Elson refers to as the “Magic Number”. This number refers to the amount of times you need to repeat something AFTER you can play it perfectly. This number could be 100 or even as much as 200. The higher the “Magic Number” the less chance you have of any slip ups in performance.
This book wasn”t what I was expecting to find, however it did offer some new insights on practise and especially performance that I had not considered. Whilst I would not recommend this book to my younger students I would suggest that it is a very useful guide to those about to enter or already in the music profession.
Passionate Practise “A Musicians Guide to Learning, Memorizing and Performance” by Margaret Elson (2002, Regent Press, ISBN: 1-58790-021-1) is available from Amazon.co.uk for £9.04 or from Amazon.com for $19.95