Well, I haven't been posting much lately but it's been a long day...of practice...and this seems to be an appropriate thread. In the past two or three weeks I have actually made some of the first substantial changes in my practice habits, and so in my playing overall, that I have made for the past 3 years or so (during which I found myself entrenched on an agonizing plateau of mediocrity, caused by inattentiveness and the wrong motivations).
The substantial change involves my new seriousness to practicing and the goal of overall refinement in my art. I practice for as long as I can concentrate on something useful, i.e. fixing or learning the technique for a certain passage, constructing musical phrases with the right amount of tonal shading, dynamic fluctuations, etc., and generally just controlling more details than I had been able to before. I apply myself fully to the score now, rather than just giving it a cursory sight-read, accepting my weaknesses as mere hazards of playing difficult music, and moving on. I appreciate the fine details more and more, but try not to obsess about them in such a way that the playing becomes too surgical. Technically, I am relaxed to the point where I hardly worry about technique anymore. It has caused me to feel that nothing is too difficult for me to play, which is in a way the correct mindset but in another way is harmful, because I don't wish to get involved with pieces that I can't grasp intellectually quite yet.
However, my technical confidence does secure a new level of repertoire for me which will, for once, help me grow mentally rather than just physically. I am working in depth on several Chopin-Godowsky etudes, with intentions of some day learning the entire set. I work on these pieces not for the technical flexibility they require (I am playing some of the simplest etudes in the set, at the moment, however, so the notes are rarely an issue--this will be less and less the case as I move forward) so much as for the mental refinement they demand: constant concentration and perseverance. These pieces have been wonderful additions to my practice routines, and I never grow tired of working on them. In turn, each time I play through one I see something new, and learn much about the subtleties of my art. I work in ways that I was too lazy to exploit earlier in my life: I work hands-separately (this is particularly a common practice in left-hand only pieces!) to make sure that each hand is independent, but also equally informed in terms of musical elements, and also to work on technique on a hand-by-hand basis (right hand technique is, I've discovered, MUCH more difficult on the whole than left hand technique, which is a topic Godowsky discusses in his introduction to the etudes). I also try to use my imagination to the fullest extent to play phrases, or sometimes just measures, in as many different ways as possible, to achieve a high level of control. I play everything without pedal first, then I play the passage legato, non-legato, staccato, fast, slow, forte, piano, with crescendos and decrescendos, accented or even, in varying rhythms, as quietly as possible (sometimes just playing over the keys), with my eyes closed, renewing the pedal on THIS note, or THAT note, or holding the pedal down all the way...I can go for half an hour on one measure, or just one hand, like this. I do not typically expect myself to be able to concentrate more than 30 minutes on one problem, though, because then I enter a sort of monotonous state where I'm not really focused, and therefore not really learning anything. I frequently take breaks after one passage, or if not a break, I at least work on another piece or passage.
During this process, mistakes are unacceptable. I might accidentally slip on one note or something, especially while working in a more difficult passage in Godowsky, and I won't stress out about it unless I repeat the mistake later. But usually if I hit two wrong notes in a row, I'll slow the tempo down until I don't make the mistakes again. Mistakes in the old days were usually caused by bad technique on my part (it was built around tense reflexive actions based largely on finger motion), but I'm in a way glad to say that usually mistakes now are caused purely by memory slips...that is to say, I have a greater understanding of technique, but sometimes I just haven't learned the notes well enough to be able to play them correctly. So in a way, nothing is too hard for me because I feel like I understand technique enough to be able to play anything, at least the notes of a piece...it's just that a more complicated piece will take a little while longer to learn. Now I just need to work on refining my memory, which is the next step.
All in all, though, it's been a busy, and happy time for me because I'm finally making progress after years of nothing. I don't follow any method but my own, though I have learned a lot from Godowsky and Busoni on technique and practicing.
One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.
You know, some people just have natural talents-like some people play the piano but aren't very tall.