This third essay in the Summerkeys series will address the issue of optimizing practice efforts in preparation for a performance. We’ve all been taught “Don’t ignore your mistakes. Stop, fix the problem, and repeat the correct response.” I’d offer you this advice, “Under stress you will do what you’ve trained yourself to do, so be careful what you train!” Examples abound in all fields of endeavor, but here are two examples from my own experience. I’ve a good friend who is a wonderful player, but when he makes even a tiny mistake in a rehearsal, he reacts – shaking his head or whatever – immediately. He won’t do this in performance, but what does happen is that a tiny error is often followed shortly by a more obvious one. He has trained himself to cling mentally to the small error and is no longer in the present musical moment. Here’s another example that seems almost impossible, but it really happened. I had a fine student trumpet and piano duo performing the Kennan Sonata. The performance was going well, but after a piano interlude the trumpet entered (correctly) and then immediately everything went bad. After the performance I asked the pianist what had happened. “Oh,” he said.” “After the piano interlude I thought ‘I can do that better, so I just went back and played it a second time.” When we practice by stopping and “fixing” our mistakes, we are training ourselves to cling to a past event and not be with the NOW.
There is a better way! Think of doing three types of practice. Type 1 is familiarization. Read through the piece. What is the style, the tempo, the point of the piece? Where are the spots that will need work? Type 1 is important, but don’t get stuck in it. Type 2 is problem solving and repetition. It was discussed in our second essay, and if its been a while, please reread it now. Type 3 is performance practice, where your job is to duplicate performance conditions. Do not stop if you can possibly help it. When you notice that an error has occurred, simply let that thought go and return immediately to the present moment. (Yes, it’s like meditation!) If you find that you are prone to making the same error, or even any error in the same spot, then you have more Type 2 practice to do. Note that you can do both Type 2 and Type 3 practice in the same session, but make doing so a conscious decision, as in “Now I’m solving a problem, or “Now I’m practicing for performance.”
Work with the practice principles discussed in these three essays as a part of your approach to the trumpet, and you’ll be on the path improvement and more enjoyment of your playing and performing.