consistency – why not so consistent?

CAUTION: MUSICAL GEEKERY AHEAD!

Hmmm...
Photo: sdominick|istockphoto.com

I was giving a pre-audition coaching on excerpts to a local violist last night, when she asked “how do I get more consistent?”  Good question, indeed!  The simple (and eminently frustrating) answer is: practice being more consistent.

Violinist Bayla Keyes has written an excellent primer on intonation (it may be floating around on the internet somewhere), and her primary admonition to string players is to, yes, adjust your pitch when it is off, but then immediately go back and try to place the offending digit directly in the center of the pitch without the need for adjustment.  It can be a slow and painstaking process, requiring much diligence and patience, but it will pay off.  Intonation improves, becomes more reliable – consistent.

My primary admonition, which is along the lines of what Burton Kaplan teaches, is to make practicing a “no-fail zone”.  In other words, break every problem down in to its lowest common denominator, working each part of the chain, gradually adding on until you’ve got the whole sequence mastered.  This also involves working at a very, very slow tempo.  The object is to achieve success on as close to the first try as possible, which teaches the many muscles involved in performing a musical action the right way to perform the action instead of just the easy way.  This again takes time, but much less time than learning something haphazardly and then having to go back and unlearn previous mistakes.

Another word of advice, taken from former teacher Roberto Dìaz, is to treat technical problems as musical problems – often the musical necessity can dictate the mechanical solution, instead of the other way around, which is just bass ackwards.

One Reply to “consistency – why not so consistent?”

  1. The idea of a no-fail zone is intriguing. I’ve been using a video camera a lot this year, and that seems to help me work in that direction. There is no “imagining” that I’m practicing carefully and it’s harder to ignore a problem just because it’s my habit. It also takes away most of the temptation to get frantic and just keep testing to see if I can play something because I’m worried I won’t have enough time to really work well anyway. In the end it takes less time to start slow but it sure doesn’t feel that way some days.

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