How many times have we thought, “who cares?,” when not holding a note long enough, not breathing in the designated place, or skipping over an articulation that is clearly indicated in the part? Details are commonly regarded as, “the small stuff,” and  are deemed unimportant, or even superfluous. With that in mind, think about what happens when any number of these tiny elements start to pile up, what can we expect of the performance quality in the end? Can overlooking the details result in failing to reach even an average product?

The answer is: Absolutely. The importance given to details depends on the desired quality of the product. If the desired level of achievement is  average or better, attention to detail is of the utmost importance. For an outstanding product it is mandatory: A great product cannot be realized without focusing on details.

Dream cars, high quality clothing articles, fine dining, luxury watches, these are all examples of goods where details are examined and perfected at every stage of production: From the initial concept to the final product, through the quality of materials, special techniques used to form them, the research and development of new materials and techniques, and the quality control measures used to scrutinize them before sale…

What makes these products so expensive, rare, and scarce? What puts them within the reach of only a small number of consumers? The price tag  summarizes the value of the time and standard adhered to during their production. The careful effort put into producing an outstanding product results in the brand and its image. Although the price tag may seem “expensive” from a quantitative point of view, the price asked matches the worth: No more no less.

No detail should be overlooked, big or small. Hence intense scrutiny when identifying them becomes intrinsically crucial. Like the production of the goods described above, when it comes to the instrument, it is during practice that precise craftsmanship should take place. Elements needed to insure such a product are: Careful work and execution of all the components mandatory to play the instrument, exhaustive research and understanding of playing mechanics, and the development of precise planning, which fulfills all technical aspects in each stage of practice. Being meticulous and discerning throughout the production process is obligatory if the result desired is to beget great value.

The result of practice with focus on details results in a product that represents the mastery of those details. It is this product that stands apart from what is merely average.

When it comes to practice, the physical and mental endurance and the time assigned to practice ARE limited, as much as one might like to believe they are not. The use we make of these resources will determine the quality of the practice. Here there is the first E: Efficiency, defined as: ‘the state or quality of being efficient, or able to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort’.

Aimless practice is likely to be a waste of time and effort. What is aimless practice? Practice for the sake of practice. Practice without a plan or goal, with a starting time but not a finishing time, with content that is set as we go, that makes no difference between important content, which is required to develop better playing, and the ‘not-so-important content’. Does this practice offer no results? It surely does, however they are not accomplished in an efficient way, but rather achieved by prolonging the time and effort beyond need. Practice should be about getting the most out of the limited resources available, by making the best use of them.

Opposed to wasting time, is investing time: This is required when researching and developing a better more efficient practice routine. It is necessary to distinguish the important content, exercises and concepts needed to achieve a higher level of performance, from those that act as ‘filler’ and waste our limited time and resources. Once these essential concepts and exercises are acknowledged and understood, they should be written down, organized in a reasonable time frame, and implemented to develop efficient practice habits. This establishes a personalized practice ideology (not merely playing through from top to bottom) that includes the content needed to improve and meet specific goals.

What are essential concepts and exercises? The usual suspects are likely to be there. Aspects such as sound, tonging, slide concepts, long tones, slow flexibility, scales, arpeggios, excerpts, technical etudes or breathing exercises, just to name a few. There is always and additional component that applies to each player individually. This consideration makes it impossible to generalize what concepts should be included and what exercises should be played (some exercises might be significant to the development of some people but superfluous and unnecessary to others).

Efficiency in combination with the second E and other concepts assure a sustainable, more enjoyable, frustration-free practice that sets a goal of becoming the best version of ourselves.

From the time I was in high school until I finished my studies, my habit became to practice between 3 and 4 hours daily. This is a relatively average time students spend practicing during their formative years. However, for what reasons do we feel practicing so many hours is necessary? Everything was waiting to be done: There was a lot of NEW material to learn (solo pieces, excerpts, etudes, etc.), and MANY technical aspects to develop (such as sound, articulation, flexibility). In my case,  there was also nothing I would rather have been doing anyway: music was the only thing that interested me and I was happy to spend 3 or 4 hours a day in the practice room.

Once I began to perform more as a professional I noticed two things: primarily, I had covered all the standard material (Of course, there will always be new material in development: a recently published etude book, an obscure operatic or orchestral excerpt, etc.) secondly, I was playing the same materials over and over. Additionally, the circumstances surrounding my personal life had changed: I started a family who I wanted to spend time with and developed other interests and hobbies that I found as fulfilling as my music.

Thus in rethinking the time I spent practicing, I observed that my progression with the instrument was not as noticeable as it was before, the chop and mental freshness prior to practice was not the same after rehearsing a heavy piece with the Orchestra during the morning, nor was the feeling fresh the following day. At some point the game had changed, but I was still playing by the old rules…

The benefits from practicing will always exist. However, the key may actually lie in appreciating quantity vs. quality: more time in the practice room does not necessarily lead to greater results. Here is when the two E’s enter into play. Check my next post to discover how I developed a more efficient practice routine.