Preparing for memorized cello performance: the role of performance cues

Chaffin, R. and Lisboa, T. and Logan, T. and Begosh, K. T. (2010) Preparing for memorized cello performance: the role of performance cues. Psychology of Music, 38 (1) pp. 3-30. ISSN 0305-7356 (print) 1741-3087 (online)


An experienced cello soloist recorded her practice as she learned and memorized the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 6 for solo cello and gave 10 public performances over a period of more than three years. She described the musical structure, decisions about basic technique (e.g., bowing), interpretation (e.g., dynamics), and five kinds of performance cues she attended to during performance (expressive, interpretive, intonation, and basic technique separately for left and right hand). The 38 hours of practice provide the most comprehensive empirical account to date of preparation of a new piece of music for performance. The cellist repeatedly took the piece apart section-by-section and then re-integrated the sections into practice performances in each of five stages: exploration, smoothing out, listening, reworking and preparation for performance. The location of starts, stops and repetitions identified the changing focus of practice in each stage. The cellist organized her practice around the musical structure, developed interpretation before working on technique and practised memory retrieval at each stage. When she wrote out the score from memory, better recall of expressive and structural performance cues showed that they served as landmarks in a hierarchical memory retrieval organization.

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