I always have advocated designating a go-to place for practicing. It should be all set up and ready for you to play your instrument, without distraction. Johnathan Biss talks with NPR on his practice space and how it’s helping him get through his nine year Beethoven project:
I love this series from hella frisch where he relates tips from Cleveland Orchestra percussionist Tom Freer on preparing for, and surviving, an orchestral audition. This is a great resource for those on the audition trail, and an interesting read for the non-musician that is curious about what the heck this stuff is all about. Check them out:
My best results in the past for getting through auditions and recitals came after spending a good month or so beforehand treating myself well ��� balancing a solid and focused practice routine with eating healthy, exercise, and plenty of sleep. Eating bananas and avoiding caffeine before an audition seemed to help keep the nerves down, and avoiding alcohol helped to keep my joints flexible and my muscles relaxed. Thank god I don’t audition any more and can have all the booze and caffeine I want!
Speaking of caffeine, I once attended a master class with cellist Anner Bylsma and was struck by how much coffee that guy was putting away during the session. His performances of the Bach cello suites are among my favorites, and maybe it’s just me, but when I listen to his recordings I swear I can hear the coffee at work in there. I myself used to hit the practice room with two or three cans of Coca-Cola in my hands, and would start off breakfast, lunch and tea time with a double cappuccino, which really made practicing fun ��� I would obsess on perfecting fingerings, create ten different ways to phrase a line, whittle away at my list of orchestra excerpts and solo pieces, and stay in the practice room for eight hours at a time. Probably it was all a bit much… Anyway…
Auditions can be a brutal process. A strategy of any sort is better than nothing at all, and the more auditions you do, the more you can refine your strategy. (Or the more you go crazy…) Another thing I liked to do for audition or recital preparations is to go and play in front of as many people as I could. For recitals, I’d offer to go play at retirement homes or go grab some people to be my audience for a mini recital. For auditions, we would put a group of people together to do practice auditions once in a while ��� we would take turns playing and the rest of us would be judges. Then we’d discuss the performances and share ideas. It was almost never all bassists; more often it was a mix. We’d hear clarinet first, then maybe a violin, and so on. The main thing was to just get the flavor of what to expect, to practice getting through it all, and to come out of it with a more confident feeling.
Fellow double bassist Matt Frisch has a great post on practicing, and it’s worth a read for anyone who is engrossed with instrumental study:
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about practicing, and coming up with bizarre theories and analogies as I often do. I think that practicing is a little like cleaning your room – both tasks never seem to quite get finished, and both can be a bit of a chore, even though we’re much happier after we’ve done them well.
Also, just as the way you clean and organize your room says an enormous amount about you (Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink has a great chapter on this subject!), practicing can be an extension of your personality. In the past, I’ve been the type of person who keeps things in a state of semi-disarray, just messy enough that if someone is coming over I can quickly shove everything into drawers and closets and create an illusion of neatness. I’d like to be more organized – not only is it stressful to have to shove things in drawers all the time (stressful for me, as well as the drawers), but it’s pretty obvious when someone lives this way. You don’t have to poke around much to find the chaos beneath my veneer of order – just ask me for a pair of scissors, or where I put my keys!
Back to work after almost two weeks of being on vacation ��� moving and a short trip up to the Redwoods for some performances.
The new house is the best part. We finally got DSL up and running today. Actually, Yingwen got the tech support call saying that it was finally fixed. I spent all day yesterday trying to get it to work, but it turns out that the problem was a faulty switch on SBC/Yahoo’s end. They replaced it today and walked Yingwen through the setup before I got home. Not bad! I just transferred her settings to the AirPort base station and life is back to normal.
Up in the Redwoods, we played tons of good music. I first had a chance to read down the Rossini duo for cello and bass, and that went pretty well. We then moved on to the Trout Quintet which was not bad, soon followed by the Dvorak Quintet which turned out to be a train wreck. I need to send these parts out ahead of time… Finally we wound down with a reading of the Brandenburg 4 and 5 concertos, which was sublime. Stellar musicianship on the part of my colleagues there, especially the first violinist and the pianist. That was the first time I had played any Bach ensemble with a piano instead of a harpsichord, but suprisingly the piano didn’t sound bad at all. I think it sounded fine, and really it shouldn’t matter what instrument is playing the continuo just so long as it can play all the notes and doesn’t sound too quiet or too loud.
And now that we’re all moved and life is back to normal, I’m looking foward to some regular practice again. I’ve been neglecting my scales and études, and want to spend more time working up some solo double bass pieces. I’m considering a heresy too ��� attempting to learn everything with the scortadura where you tune the G string on the bass up to an A, á la Edgar Meyer. I just am getting sick of swapping string sets and tuning up a whole step for solo pieces and then back down for orchestral all the time, and heck since I’m no longer a professional orchestral bassist then that kind of frees me up to do whatever the heck I want right?