Training thought and action for virtuoso performance

Lisboa, T. and Demos, A. P. and Chaffin, R. (2018) Training thought and action for virtuoso performance. Musicae Scientiae, 22 (4) pp. 519-538. ISSN 1029-8649 (print) 2045-4147 (online)


The skills needed to play fast, challenging music with passion and conviction are much the same as the skills needed to play reliably from memory. We illustrate the relationship between virtuosic performance and memorization by describing how an experienced cellist (the first author) prepared the Prelude from J. S. Bach’s Suite No. 6 (BWV 1012) for solo cello for public performance in more than 30 hours of practice, and then taught a student pianist to memorize by showing her how to practice in a similar fashion. The cellist’s practice was guided by her artistic image of how the piece should sound, which directed her attention during practice to important musical transitions. These transitions were the location of performance cues (PCs), thoughts about musical intentions and technical choices that the cellist reported attending to during performance. These PCs served as retrieval cues, providing places where the cellist could recover from a memory failure, making it possible for her to perform from memory. They also affected expressive timing, reminding the cellist to “breathe” between phrases, with the result that tempo arches were taller and more tilted in phrases that started with a PC than in phrases that did not. Thus, attending to musical goals during practice made it possible to play from memory and with passion and conviction.

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