How To Practice Smarter By Using Imaging (From Strings Magazine)

By Tom Heimberg

Cultivating all-important alertness is what I call “practicing smarter.” And a key means to that end is to imagine each action before doing it. This can be done at any time—while practicing, while reading a score on the bus, while taking a walk.
Here’s an example from my teaching: a student of mine flubbed a “finger-twister” several times at a lesson and couldn’t figure out why. The reason was close at hand. Though the pattern was within her abilities, it was not yet clear in her thoughts.
The first step toward helping her was to slow her down (less impatient effort, more attention). The second step was to help her clarify the pattern to herself. To do this, I combined several practices. I asked her to play the passage slowly three times, with several added assignments. Before each repetition, she was first to look at the music, then to imagine the sensations of playing it slowly. With each visualized play-through, she was to notice and name aloud a different aspect of the music: First, she named the notes while imaging (then played slowly); second, she named the intervals while imaging (then played slowly again); and finally, she named the fingerings (and played slowly once more). Only after doing all this was she to try the passage up to tempo.
That final tempo went perfectly. Each previous repetition (there had been six: three imaged and verbalized, three played) clarified the task from a different point of view. In just a few minutes, the pattern had become clear to her. Of course, more practice was needed before that pattern, and the piece it was part of, could be played habitually and dependably. But now she would approach her practice with confidence, knowing that she had already successfully played the difficult spot.
By Tom Heimberg

Drawing upon decades of experience in the orchestra pit and the teaching studio, Tom Heimberg’s advice and insight about both practice and performance will prove invaluable to the aspiring young musician who dreams of making a successful career in music. His book, Making a Musical Life: The Practice, The Profession, The Joy, will resonate, too, with the experienced professional who revels in the talk of the trade. And for the music lover in the audience, it will provide unique glimpses at life backstage. Musicians and music lovers of all levels will appreciate the wealth of practical information it provides, interwoven with humorous vignettes about working and playing with inspired musicians of the 20th century.
$14.95, Book (paperbound), HL00331748