At Interlochen I was tasked to do a masterclass, so I wrote out three options: one about accessory instruments, one about the physical aspects of percussion, and one about my process of developing my technique for performances. This is the outline of the last one and I hope it is helpful!
Preparatory, Instinctive, Improvisatory- Joshua D. Jones
The most important step is the preparation. This is where foundation is laid. The bigger the structure the deeper the foundation must be and the building can get as big as you want it to get.
1) Warm Up- simple, calm, easy exercises that get the blood flowing, muscles ready and the mind focused. Scales, rudiments etc.
2) Goal Oriented Practice- with a set goal in mind you know the end from the beginning. This will influence what steps, explorative measures, that will get you there.
3) Quality vs. Quantity- every goal has an immeasurable time of accomplishment attached to it. If one tries to place a time maximum on their practice the focus is no longer solely on the goal itself, but making sure one gets to that X hour mark. It is what we do with whatever time that we have that makes a difference. Make sure, if time organization is a factor, that it is also goal oriented and not making a time mark.
4) Exploration in Practice- having an active imagination during practice will decrease opportunity for redundancy. Find other intelligent ways to arrive at the goal.
5) Over-Tension = Trouble- if you’re too tense you are getting in your own way of naturally producing the results that you want. There is also a difference between gaining endurance and straining muscles. If it hurts, you’ve gone passed the limit and you must stop immediately. Know your body and be smart! Once you are practicing naturally you can begin to make what you are practicing into second nature.
Repetition is like a determined person with a small shovel. If they keep digging, no matter how small the shovel, the hole will continue to get larger. The bigger the hole, the easier it is to fall into it. The longer you do something the more it becomes a part of you, eventually into a second nature, Instinct.
1) Slow Practice- doesn’t mean just practicing the tempo slower, but EVERYTHING SLOWER. That includes every motion involved with every action. Anything practiced slow enough is easy to do.
2) Mental Practice- everything we do begins in the mind. If we exercise what we see, hear and feel in our mind it will influence what we do physically and make it that much more tangible.
3) Listening- the sound we produce is caused by the brain. If we know the sound we want, our body either will know how to create that sound or must be instructed on how to produce it. Having an imaginative, open ear is key to making music. The ear influences the feel, and the feel influences the sound. Whichever way you are more comfortable with looking at, eventually the other alternative will click and you will be able to use both pathways to make music.
4) Feeling- remember it is your body that is producing the sound through the instrument. Natural motions are the key to gaining instinct. The more natural the motions you are learning feel, the more it will become second nature. Remember, over-tension creates trouble.
5) Practicing the Basics- remember, the deeper the foundation, the taller and more stable the structure can be. If you want to add to your physical repertoire of techniques, or build the building higher, the more you must build and strengthen your basics. Fluidity between anything technically “elementary” must first become second nature before more can be added to it, for everything extends from those basics.
The first two steps are both apart of the preparative process, but once the work has been put in you must let it happen. When it is performed naturally it will never be wrong and you can consciously make changes to it if you want to, not merely play a rehearsed mechanical performance. Everything you practice must have the openness and freedom to be improvised on, musically, dynamically, tempo wise etc.
1) Halls/Auditoriums- more than likely we are practicing in small practice rooms. This becomes a problem if our technique hasn’t been prepped for the size of a large auditorium. This can be countered by finding time in larger spaces and listening to the differences or imagining what the difference could be while in a practice room. It’s easier to do the latter if you have at least one experience in a larger hall, but not impossible. You cannot go into a hall and play your prepared “practice” room pieces. You must adapt to the hall. This is why having it already second nature is important, because you won’t have to worry about playing to the hall and the technique at the same time. Your imagination will direct what your body already knows how to do.
2) Playing WITH People- remember that you are apart of a group. What you do with your part influences them and vice versa. Even if you are soloing, the hall is your partner. It sounds different with people sitting in the chairs and you must adapt to that. Conductors also may do something different and you must be in a flexible position in order to follow them. Again, if it’s second nature, you can consciously manipulate subconscious processes.
3) Find the NEW- even though we prepare and have a certain vision for a piece, there is always something new to find while we perform. Another instrument we didn’t notice or another duet we weren’t aware we were apart of. When we search for these things during performance it makes it more interactive for the orchestra and more enjoyable for the audience.
4) Act on Your Instincts- if the atmosphere creates an idea that is appropriate at the time, act on it! That’s a musical moment that you can create and give life to that performance. The more those happen the more alive the concert will be! It is scary, but if you second guess yourself in that moment, it will be lost. Have courage at all times and you will be rewarded with another great experience.
5) HAVE FUN- this should be a new experience every time and exciting to be apart of something that is ever changing. The more you “play around” in this environment, the more you will learn about everything involved, the piece, the orchestra, the audience, the conductor, the hall and most importantly yourself!
Using no way as way, using no limitation as limitation- Bruce Lee
Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless- Jamie Paolinetti
True, no man can do more than his best: but what is his best? Just as far as his imagination will go. That is a man’s best- E. Douglas Taylor
You have to fail to find the New- Robin Williams
Be You. Be Heard- Josh Jones