“The single most important goal for performing artists is to see how they are doing.”
–Itzhak Perlman (The Musician’s Way, p. 202)
1. Practice Accessible Music
Only manageable music leavesus with the mental bandwidth we need to sense every aspect of our execution.
In the words of Robert Schumann,
“Endeavour to play easy pieces well and with elegance; thatis better than
to play difficult pieces badly.”
2. Record Yourself
Both in practice andperformance, we should regularly employ audio and video recorders,
and then evaluate our recordings in targeted ways.
Withan audio recording of a solo, for instance,
we might listen once to a section and assess our rhythm;
for a second appraisal we could focus on intonation;
on a third pass we might weigh our dynamics, vibrato, articulation, tone, or other expressive effects.
When reviewing a video,
we should gauge our stage presence and look for any mannerisms that wemight unconsciously display
(e.g., raised shoulders, stiffness, grimaces,inordinate movements).
3. Assess for Excellence
As we practice, wecontinually need to sense whether our actions vibrate with habits of excellence:
ease, expressiveness,accuracy, rhythmic vitality, beautiful tone, focused attention, and positiveattitude.
Forexample, as we play or sing, we should insist on ease,
and never let ourselvespush through difficulties or execute phrases at uncontrollable tempos.
4. Treat Errors as Crucial Information
Errors alert us to faultsin our preparation; they provide us with crucial feedback.
We mustn’t fear or loathe them. Instead, in response to errors,
we should isolate and solve the problems that cause us to misstep.
Musicians who become upset by mistakes tend not to notice many glitches
because, unconsciously, they want to avoid suffering.
So they’ll heedlessly distorttheir music rather than refurbish clumsy phrases.
5. Seek Feedback
We learn the most at theedges of our knowledge.
And all of us filter what we perceive, so we oftencan’t evaluate with untarnished objectivity.
Other view points, therefore, are crucial to our growth.
WhenI assess my own work, for instance, I assume that I might be missing something.
For that reason, I ask others to read my writing,
listen to my playing, critique my concert programming ideas, and so forth.
Whena colleague points out something that I’ve overlooked,
I rejoice, because Irecognize that myawareness has been expanded.
6. Assess with Detachment
We’re passionate about music,
but we must evaluate our work somewhat dispassionately, almost as if it weren’tcoming from us.
WhatI mean is that, when we size up our playing of a phrase,
we should ask things like,
“How was the timing in that melody?”
Not how was my timingbut how was the timing.
Similarly, if we’re using a mirror to help with a technical problem,
we should examine theactions of our hands as just hands. Not our hands.
Then we can ask whether what we see reflects what we desire.