For those seeking a sideways look at practice Madeline Brusers book has much to offer. One of the aims of this site is to challenge the accepted ideas on music practice and to present new ways of tackling improvement. Bruser’s book is far from a standard book about practice techniques and planning and presents some different approaches which will be of use to many.
From the outset she presents a more liberal unplanned approach to practice. Bruser argues that planned practice can be restrictive and ‘feel more like a punishment than a musical experience’. She discusses how standard practice approaches can destroy inspiration and spontaneity. Worse still, she goes on to argue, is the constant striving for an unobtainable perfection which can never be reached leading us to blame and be harsh on ourselves. This in turn causes tension – a circle which means the more we practice the worse we get.
To address this perceived problem much of Bruser’s book focuses on the body and how we position and control it in the best way for practice. Many of the observations are taken from Alexander and Yoga and there are specific examples applied to piano, guitar, wind and brass players.
Bruser’s overall approach to practice is summed up in her ’10 step approach’. This approach falls into 3 main areas. Firstly getting ready to practice by settling and relaxing the body and by focusing the mind on the task ahead. Secondly Bruser suggests you remain aware and curious as you practice. Lastly and perhaps most interestingly is the idea that you should notice how your practice feels both to your mind and body. This is an area on which much research has been done by psychologists and most seem to agree that if you can feel and become emotionally involved with what you are doing you are much more likely to learn it more quickly. For this reason Bruser also suggests using visualisation techniques as these will elicit the same feelings used in actual performance.
On the subject of performance and nerves Bruser returns to the theme of feeling. She suggests that memorisation is a useful backup if you lose your place during performance. The effectiveness of memorisation can she argues be heightened if you not only ‘memorise the notes but also memorise the feeling of playing the notes’. Nervousness can be offset by having not only a kinesthetic memory but also an emotional one as well.
There is much to merit about this book. I would not however recommend it to those starting out in music or even those that are inexperienced. I feel that these people need a more straight forward grounding in practice and there are other books that deal with this in a clearer way. I would however recommend this book to experienced players. It does offer some thought provoking and useful views especially in relation to the feelings and emotions around performance and practice.
The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser (1997, Bell Tower, ISBN: 978-0-609-80177-2) is available from:[amazon asin=0609801775&template=htp price]