A Sound Centered Approach to Technical Work

(Origionally posted 9/18/2016)

All too often musicians approach their technical studies purely by how it feels, or by where they should place certain body parts, which causes a disconnection between technical and musical practice/performing. While it is useful to be in touch with how the instrument feels, it is only part of the complete package. By focusing purely on feel, the sound may begin to suffer, and then the technical practice becomes useless. Unless you sound great and play musically, your technique does not matter.Audiences would much rather a musician play with a beautiful, resonant sound and exciting musical ideas than attend a note-perfect performance in which the performer plays robotically, with an ugly sound. All technical work should be centered on sound and phrasing. (When focusing on sound, remember that it includes the entire picture, not just your tone. “Sound” includes style, dynamics, starts and ends of notes, connection, and clarity of articulation) However, the technical practice session is also the time to make physical adjustments to better your sound and ease of playing. If the sound and physical parts of practicing are in balance (more focus on sound, and less on the physical), your results should be positive.

Since the purpose of technical work is to improve your playing so that is will transfer to your daily performing and literature practice, we should ensure that we practice with musicality, a great sound, and good phrasing. If we accomplish this task, then there is a harmonious transfer of technical work to performing, and less time will be spent on technique during the other practice sessions in the day. For example: I hear many students play with poor sound and no phrasing on technical exercises, and when I ask why their sound suffers, they make the excuse, “I am working on finger technique, so it’s ok if I don’t have a good tone and phrasing.” This type of thinking is prevalent, among younger players, but it is detrimental to their musical development because the bad habits formed in the technical session will bleed into their performing. By playing technical passages with a poor sound and without phrasing, two results can occur. They teach their body and minds that when fast technical passages occur that it is acceptable to play without a good sound or phrasing, and play their prepared pieces as such. Or, when they attempt to play a solo or etude covering the technique in question, it falls apart because of the lack of musical technique practice. This disconnection between technical and musical practice is what causes problems in performance and with consistency. While technical work is necessary for improvement and maintenance, we should always place sound and phrasing at the forefront of our thinking.

We must demand that our sound is beautiful, and our phrasing is obvious during technical practice sessions. If practiced intentionally, this concept will help bridge the gap between technical and musical practice and will lead to more consistency when performing. When we approach technical work musically with a great sound, it will benefit our overall playing exponentially.

Philip Hembree