When learning the violin or another instrument, exactly why is it necessary to review and repeat music that you already know? Don't you...already know it?
"Knowing" a piece is actually just the starting point - then comes the real work. After knowing a piece, the next goal is to master the piece. And in mastering many pieces, you grow your level of fluency on the instrument.
So what exactly is mastery, and what is fluency?
Mastery is when the physical skills of playing something become a series of easy motions, executed without mistakes. Fingers land in the correct spots at the correct times, and shifts occur seamlessly. There are no lingering questions over bow direction, and articulations are clear and decisive. In most cases, the music, when mastered, is also memorized.
Fluency a step beyond mastery. Musical fluency - similar to fluency in a language - is when the music flows freely and easily, expressing something meaningful to the listener. Any troubles related to producing the music are behind you, freeing you to shape the music in the moment, as you connect with your listener.
Think about how you developed fluency in your own language. Or better yet, think about a struggle for fluency in a foreign language. Fluency is developed by using the language a lot, by saying phrases over and over. In the beginning, just saying the words can be difficult. As you get past that, you start forming phrases, clumsily at first. Over time your phrases make more sense. You start to understand not just the general meaning of the words you speak, but all the subtleties of putting them together in different ways, to suit different situations and meanings.
And what fosters this process? Repetition.
It's the same in music. The more we play a piece of music, the more adept we grow with our performance and expression.
Learning new pieces is a necessary part of our growth. Most of us understand that. But playing old pieces is also a necessary part of our growth. If you are always playing a "new" piece, then you are always playing something you aren't quite good at, yet. The "old" pieces are where we can dive deep and find that competent, sophisticated voice. You can't be competent and sophisticated when you are still struggling over the notes!
So if you find yourself unable to make progress on a new piece, try balancing your practice by making progress on a piece that you already know well. The goal will be to gain or re-gain mastery over it, and after that, fluency.
So what exactly are you supposed to practice, if you already play a piece very well? It involves asking yourself a couple of very simple questions:
Does this actually sound good? Does it sound the way I want it to sound?
This kind of practice takes more thought and intention than you might think. Listen for these kinds of things:
Happy practicing, and feel free to add to this list!
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