The role of the student vis-à-vis the teacher GM

The tradition of the master / apprentice model has a long and illustrious history in the creative and performing arts. However, in addition to a student absorbing the knowledge of a teacher, the emphasis in a two-way collaboration has grown in recent years. A proactive approach on the part of the student can be encouraged and the student can be actively involved in developing their own understanding by seeking solutions, experimenting with learning strategies and exploring repertoire. Planning to bring specific questions to lessons is also beneficial and welcomed by teachers in general. The ultimate goal is to develop self-reliance and independent artistry. 


Expression and communication (WK)

Expression - to ex-press your self - is an important element of musicianship. We can play musically - understand and perform the musical ideas that we found in the composition - yet the audience might not experience our playing as expressive. Expression means that we purposely transmit the emotions, story, characters and atmosphere of the music to the audience. We don’t play to ourselves, we play to our public.

We are ‘performing’ artists…

In order to be expressive on stage, we have to experience and experiment with how we feel the expression ourselves during playing. Many musicians experience the expression through playing the instrument, like the pressure and speed of bowing, the arm-movements, the speed and power of the air. Also the emotional impact of harmony, intervals and the melody (think about the theme of Schindlers List) and also how we interpret the music can give us a sense of expression. Experiencing the emotions, story, characters and atmosphere ourselves, is a step towards transmission. However, doing that might interfere with our performance. In our brain, the emotional level that is activated, lies partly in deeper areas, which we call the limbic system. These deeper levels of the brain have a tendency to ‘take over’ what we do. As musicians we can notice how playing expressively causes physical and mental tension. Our bodily responses are similar to these of the freeze, fight, flight reflex. Also, we tend to make more mistakes, close ourselves off from other musicians and experience a feeling of ‘losing control’. Thus, practising how to play expressively, yet keeping calm, is a matter of practising itself. 


Creativity In practicing by using improvisation (EJ)


When we hear the word ”improvisation”, we often think it is ”about jazz” and improvising a solo with the harmony chords. The truth is much more than that. Today improvising is a growing subject in the field of classical music. To learn to improvise and use it in your practicing, the best idea is to try new things and take risks, and then you realise that you are not so afraid of mistakes any more. When you learn to trust  your ear more and develop your listening, you begin to see further and deeper  into music and particularly in terms of phrasing. Having a deeper sense of the harmony and the structure, you can focus on the strongest musical things in the score better. Also when you work with your imagination (pictures, stories, moods, feelings, emotions, audiation, texts, scenes, flow), you can become a more personal performer. We need to have the most effective playing technique on our instrument. We also need to enjoy playing and performing music in an interesting and personal way. This kind of experience of playfulness, joy and freedom that comes from improvising can help more players to fall in love with classical music.

Tips for practicing improvisation (EJ)

  • Have a new perspective to scale playing: Play around with one scale, then improvise your own folk song or a children’s song with that scale.  Then choose another scale and go on like that. Feel that you ”own the key” by being able to play around with it.
  • Try to use some inspiring pictures in some part of your repertoire and let it influence in your interpretation.


Creativity and flow (EN)

The state of flow or optimal experience is characterised by strong creative impulses and a joyful desire to discover new things through exploration. Therefore in the musician’s practise room and learning environment it is vital to maintain an open, free atmosphere where opportunities to discover and invent are at the forefront. This ultimately leads to an enhanced sense of artistry and advanced performance skills where the performer can express themselves fully in the moment. To learn how to establish a creative, present-focussed feeling in your practice, you can apply flow focus points that encourage sensory, expressive and cognitive discovery. 

Use creative questions to explore and discover

You can creatively explore the expressive meaning of your music by improvising on the musical themes to help maintain spontaneity. Just play freely without too many instructions or rules so that you can discover new things about the music. Keep yourself focussed by asking yourself open questions that stimulate artistic discovery such as, ‘What is the expressive intention of this music?’, and ‘How would I like to interpret this phrase?’ Open questions can be used to help with any creative aspect of playing. For example, you can ask yourself ´What do I need to do now to get more of a feeling for this piece?’ or ‘How could I discover more about the structure of this music?’ or ‘What story could I invent to go with this music?’ or ‘How can I create a strong communication with the audience?’ In this way mechanistic, repetitive practise techniques can be replaced with spontaneous, creative discovery. This allows you to remain joyfully engaged in the moment to experience the transformative feelings of flow that allow your true artistry to naturally emerge.


Mastery in music (WK)

Mastery is the level that we can reach through practising (with the aim to internalize our playing) yet not to play on the motoric automatic pilot. The aim of practising towards mastery is that the focus we needed to learn a piece (including interpretation and the parts other musicians play) is now replaced with a focus for performing. We can ‘let go’ and focus, for example, on communication with the other musicians, communication with the audience, playing expressively and, maybe the most important of all, keeping calm. Instrumentalists often don’t have an experience in practising mastery, usually we learn a piece and then perform it. If we look at artists with a clear stage performance (actors, opera singers) we can learn more about how to practice for performing. So the order of practicing could be: learning a piece – mastery (focus on performing) – performing.