I apologize now for my questionable humor...
So this is my first in a series of blog posts to hopefully track my mental practice challenge.
What do you mean by "mental practice challenge?" I'm glad you asked!
The challenge is I will learn a piece new to me beginning with mental practice, i.e. not touching the viola only using my mind! As a start to the challenge, for the next week I will mentally practice this specific piece for at least 10 minutes per day. I hope to expand the practice to longer intervals and more frequent sessions, but this is my dipping a toe into the pond of mental practicing.
I have chosen to learn the York Bowen Phantasy for Viola and Piano. It is a truly lovely work that I am extremely excited to work on. I am planing a recital with a friend and colleague, Victor Andzulis, for next fall (details to come once we work them out and I don't have research papers hanging over my head) and I would like to put this piece on the program.
So you may be wondering why I would do such a thing, isn't the whole point of practicing to get better at the viola? so how can you not touch the viola to do it?
So this past weekend, the viola studio at ISU had two guest artists come and give a lecture and recital, Molly Gebrian, viola and Danny Holt, piano and percussion. The recital was entitled Trios for two, music for viola, piano, and percussion played by two people. It was mind-blowing to watch.. Here is a link to a performance, you have to just see it to believe it.
Though the lecture is what inspired this post..
Molly Gebrian is on faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where she teaches viola and music theory. She is also a neuroscientist! (what? no way someone can be good at two things)
She presented a fantastic lecture entitled: "What Musicians can Learn about practicing from current Brain Research." I was absolutely blown away. I mean sure I had heard about some of this stuff before like: when we practice we form pathways in the brain to do new tasks, the more repetitions we do correctly, the stronger the path way; get enough sleep, etc. But I had never been explained why these things work, and well she told us!
The mental practice section of her lecture inspired me the most. She told a story that she heard from one of her teachers, Carol Rodland. Carol during her time at Juilliard developed severe tendonitis which forced her to stop playing the viola for a length of time in order to heal except she was preparing for the Concerto Competition!! (internal screaming) Since she was a senior, she wanted to win the concerto competition, as at Juilliard you only compete your senior year, but with the sudden lack of playing the viola, there was no way she could possibly prepare, right? WRONG! She learned the entire concerto with mental practice and with the one week before the performance picked up her viola and then proceeded to win the competition.
How did she do this? Dr. Gebrian described that mental practicing is not simply singing through the piece of music in your mind while looking at the score, but imagining every aspect of the physical acts of playing: how the bow is moving, intonation, tone, vibrato, etc. So feeling every part of playing, using only your mind, and not touching the viola (remember the no touchy gif?) Now, she had some very fancy science to explain what happens to your brain when you do this, but since I am not a neuroscientist and only play the viola and can only count to four on a good day, I won't go into that, However, Dr. Gebrian does have fancy science knowledge on her website here.
So that is what I will be doing for 10 minutes every day this week. I decided to choose a piece that I have not played before to see the results. I completed my first session this evening and it incredibly frustrating to not pick up the viola, but I think this kind of practice forces you to really think about everything that is going on in your playing, not just the nuts and bolts, but the phrasing and the "how-to" of the music as well. At least thats what the logic side of my brain tells me...the science and my brain could be conspiring against me to make me do hard brain things with no real results.... (I will let you poke holes in that fallacy)
Hopefully I will write another post at the end of my week to present the results and announce the next part of the challenge.
Happy Mental Practicing!