Getting to know your Musical Self

Piano practice

I have realised that over the last few days I have been writing only Daily Prompt-related posts. Forgive me – I have been busy during the day, and could only write during my lunch-break. So, as many of you know, I am a music student, and I have been practising increasingly more over the last term. This because, as my teacher says, “it takes 10,000 hours to make a cellist” – so I’m always striving to put on more and more to my grand total of ‘numbers of hours practising’. It’s quite interesting now because, as a musician reading this might know, the more practice you do the more you learn about yourself.

I have a friend, a pianist, who has the wonderful gift of seeing colours when she plays. She practises all the time, and a lot of it in the dark. She does this for two reasons: to practice without watching her hands, feeling the weight of the keys and where they are positioned spatially; and also to see these colours more clearly. I can only imagine what it would be like to see colours whilst you’re playing! It could be one of two things I think – either that you see a flurry of colours that neatly mix and flow whilst you play, or that you see a blinding flurry of quickly changing colours that come one after the other.

Though I don’t know how long she has been able to see colours whilst she plays, or much about the colours she sees at all, I know that every person who “sees” music in this way “sees” it differently. I have shown this friend of mine videos of music that coordinate the notes to different colours on the screen, and she found it very annoying because it was not how she saw them at all.

I think every musician has his/her special features of musicality. For example, I have been told that I have a very good feel for Baroque music (Bach, Vivaldi, etc.) and the way it’s phrased and played. I have been told that I have a good and acute sense of pitch also (not perfect pitch at equal temperament, but relative pitch – for example if you play an A and an E, the E will be sharper if it’s in tune with the A, but if you play the same E with a G, the E will be too sharp), although this is practised and improved upon through practising scales and double-stop scales (scales where you play more than one note at the same time on two strings). It’s very important to explore your abilities as a musician, because then you can plan how much and what you are going to practise accordingly.

Today I was talking to another friend of mine who is also a cellist, and when I saw him he had just finished an hour and a half warm-up and was writing it down on paper! He said that he had been experimenting and had found that he was far more productive throughout the whole day if he did a substantial amount of warming up. Warming up is something I do on principle, usually half an hour straight after I wake up or after breakfast, to increase my productivity also, however not to this extent. My friend had done practically a whole physical workout to make sure that all his muscles in his neck, arms, hands, fingers, legs and back were all relaxed and ready to play. So I created my own, revised warm-up ‘regime’ for future practising this evening!

The significance of this however is that there is a plethora of things that you can know about your musical self, and how you best prepare for practising is just one of these things. Here are some ideas for things you should maybe investigate in the future:

  • How long you can practise for continually without a break. You could maybe see how long you can do this with and without a warm-up
  • How quickly you can memorize a passage of music. This is a memory thing – people with very analytical minds tend to be able to remember music faster
  • How good you are at sight-reading. Here in the UK, musicians are well-known to be comparatively good sight-readers to, say, musicians from Russia. It’s seen as a vital part of being a musician – the importance is shown, for example, in ABRSM grading exams, where you will be given a piece of sight-reading which will be marked and, in turn, will affect your overall score
  • What kind of lighting do you feel most comfortable practising in. I find that natural light is much better to practise in than yellow, artificial light, however I don’t like completely facing or turning away from the light source either – I prefer to sit with the window to either side of me

Knowing these things can help you prepare better and practise more efficiently. I shall be investigating too, and will be posting up what I discover along the way! Meanwhile, I will leave you will a piece of music: ‘Det är en ros utsprungen’ by Jan Sandström.

This is one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. Swedish composer, Jan Sandström, uses Praetorius’ piece of the same name (well, the equivalent in German) and slows it down, as well as adding a ghostly choir part which consists of humming. It’s very much a Christmas piece and is often sung around that time, however I felt the need to post it tonight – you will definitely enjoy it. It’s not too long – just over four minutes – and for those who are going to bed, you can listen to this – it’s very relaxing indeed.

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