March 7, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning is that annual ritual in which we shake off the old detritus of the last year, clean our space, let in the light and the fresh air.  Of course, we mostly put it off so we can practice.  But maybe we should consider spring cleaning our playing.

Technique is essential for good performance and will help you get new music down.  I know you have good technique.  You have worked hard to achieve it.  And it has served you well for all this time.

But just like our homes, our technique could use some spring cleaning.  There are 3 things you can do to give your playing a tune up:

1.       Work on your exercises – I know, no one likes exercises – but they are good for you.  The real reason to include exercises though is that they allow you an opportunity to evaluate your technique.  Use the time to work slowly and carefully through those basic elements of playing that are the building blocks (or technique).  If you are inclined you can enlist the aid of a friend or use a video camera to learn more – what are your hands actually doing while you’re playing?  These are always useful – I try to monitor my technique like a hawk especially when doing scales, arpeggios and building patterns which give you a good idea of areas you need to work. 

2.       Tune up old tunes - I had the opportunity to take a lesson recently and in the course of it, learned that I had developed a very bad habit.  I never noticed it because I never do it when I’m watching myself work through exercises.   This bad habit had developed over the course of building comfort with the tune and its arrangement.  If you develop a problem, go back to old tunes that you know really well.   In effect, they become like the exercises in that you know them so well you don’t have to focus on the tune and can instead look at your technique.  Because you’re playing a real tune you can explore even greater aspects of your playing than with the exercises.

3.       Do a real cool down – Most people don’t think they really need a cool down after practicing or playing.  After all, it’s not like you ran or anything – you certainly didn’t break a sweat!  However, each time you practice you are doing a lot of work.  And just like an athlete, you need to cool down and stretch to help build strength and allow the muscles to recover.

Of course, this spring cleaning is something you should do throughout the year.  It will help you strengthen your technique which will improve your playing in the spring and throughout the year.

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