Learning to be an instrumental musician

Clark, T. and Lisboa, T. and Williamon, A. (2014) Learning to be an instrumental musician. In: Advanced Musical Performance: Investigations in Higher Education Learning. SEMPRE Studies in the Psychology of Music . Ashgate, London, pp. 287-300. ISBN 9781409436898


‘…in one minute I was a star and in three minutes I hit superstardom…you can’t have a big career unless you play in competitions… I do five hours [practice] a day if possible, but it’s getting more and more difficult with my engagements. For me the best practice is when I have a practical task to accomplish. If I manage to fulfil it, then I’ve had a good day’s work…When I first looked at Ravel’s ‘Scarbo’, from Gaspard, I could hardly read the text and I thought, “I have to have a third hand to accomplish this!” (Pogorelich in Dubal, 1997). It is well-known that, during the course of their lives, successful performing instrumentalists spend thousands of hours in the privacy of their studios, practising. It is, therefore, impossible to overestimate the importance of practice for the developing musician. However, for some, practice can be monotonous, repetitive and arduous, while they would rather be doing something else; and for others, it can be motivating, varied, and lead to very high-level performances. What accounts for such differences in achieving success? What does practice involve at different stages of learning to be a successful musician? What are the differences between experts and less developed instrumentalists? What else besides attaining technical fluency or learning repertoire is involved in achieving expertise? Research in music performance has long been interested in the study of expertise and the development of skills necessary for successful careers in instrumental playing. The main focus has been on the training of instrumentalists in terms of the development of technical and musical skills, through practice. However, to become successful, there may be yet further skills not commonly integrated in the training of instrumentalists but which are equally important for developing and sustaining a performing career, be it as a soloist, orchestral player, chamber musician, or an amateur instrumentalist.

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