Instrumental technique in performance
There are many things you can do to help your technique. You can practice scales and arpeggios, various etudes and other classics, and specific jazz vocabulary in all keys. These days, with the advent of good music software for computers, it’s pretty easy to play a transcribed solo by someone into the computer and make copies of it in all twelve keys to practice as an etude. Short of that, it’s always a good idea to practice typical idiomatic vocabulary that you like in all twelve keys. This might include II-V-I phrases, for example. Or it may just be favorite licks or clichés that you want to have available at any time. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this because these ideas are your personal stamp on the music. Ultimately, it is their favorite clichés that allow us to recognize famous players.
I have another feeling about technique that I would like to share with you. The surprising thing is that technique can sometimes get in the way of making good music. This is not because of poor technique which prevents you from executing ideas but from too much technique that hits the listener in the face as if to say, “Listen to me, I’ve got chops!” Of course, I could always stand to improve my technique. But I find that, in general, I am able to execute most of what I want to play so I am not frustrated or discouraged. It is important to remember that, as you learn to play better, it is okay to not play! You will play many choruses on tunes over a lifetime so you don’t have to play everything you know every time you play a tune! You might even take some chances and improvise ideas that you have never played!
Of course, another thing that has a direct impact on technique is mental preparation. If we can’t visualize and “hear” what we want to play, the best chops in the world won’t help us to get the idea out since we don’t really know what it is! in practice, try to “sing” your ideas and visualize them written on a musical staff. Probably, if you can hear it, you can play it! Another interesting thing is that I believe we all have more technique than we realize and often the challenge is to remove performance anxieties that inhibit our ability to play as well as we are capable. Tension can creep into the kinetic system and cause you to tighten up physically and therefore be less comfortable playing.
It is easier said than done but what we have to learn to do is to release control and “let” ourselves play rather than consciously directing the process and deciding what we should or should not play or what will or will not be “hip”! Once you have practiced and learned something you want to be able to play, why ever doubt that you can play it? A gentleman named Luigi Bonpensiere wrote a book called “New Pathways to Piano Technique” which has ideas applicable to any instrument. Basically, rather than making yourself play something, he says you should form the idea of what you want to play in your conscious mind but then release control and let yourself play it. Though a simple idea in principle, it takes practice to apply the thinking.
Haven’t you experienced the pleasant surprise of something flowing effortlessly from within you that you didn’t think you could play? If so, you got a little glimpse of the power that lies within you already! I believe in the power of the subconscious mind to store a vast amount of information that may be accessed whenever we need it. The subconscious is like an autopilot that takes care of a lot of business without conscious direction. Your conscious mind is freed up to think about interaction within the group, how you want the energy to increase or decrease and the feeling you want in your playing. Now the challenge is to learn how to tap into that on a regular basis. Sometime, sit down to play with no notion of what you are going to play and see if you can let go even a little bit. Don’t pass any value judgments on the quality of what you play but just try to open up and play what you honestly feel. Probably some good things will happen!