The Reason Behind: But I Could Play This At Home!
Your student comes into the lesson and says "oh I'm so happy
this week, I practiced so much".
She plays her piece and stumbles, starting over a couple of times.
She finally stops, saying "oh but I really could play this at home".
She's sad. And you understand her.
Because this has happened to you too.
Everyone knows this experience and everyone finds their
reasons for why this is.
It might be that the student didn't really practice
for enough time to know the piece well.
Or, that she really couldn't play the piece at home
in the first place and fooled herself into believing so.
Or that she's just nervous. Or that her warming-up wasn't enough.
That might or might not be the case, additionally.
Because there's more.
The main reason reason behind "but I could play this at home"
lies in the connection between hearing and movement
inside the human ear.
Let's go there for a moment.
(source: Wikipedia Commons
When we hear, soundwaves that reach our
tympanus (dark green) are transmitted and
amplified by three auditory ossicles called malleus,
incus and stapes (all three in blue).
The last bone is positioned in so
that it connects with the hearing organ
and the balance organ at the same time
(both are purple here - balance organ
top and hearing organ bottom).
That means that in the inner ear,
sound is translated equally into hearing
information and into movement information.
After that, it gets even more interesting,
the nerves of the hearing and balance organs
merge into one single nerve fiber,
reaching the brain as the cranial nerve VIII.
Such is the close connection between hearing and movement.
That means, in reverse,
that there is access to the motor system,
i.e. movement, through hearing.
And when I say movement, it includes of course the whole of our bodies;
our arms and fingers and tongue and
the other muscles we use to play, sing or conduct a piece.
When we practice in one
room we will have trained a set of movements
that work only for that acoustic.
The moment we go to our lesson,
the surroundings change, the reverberation changes.
The ear receives new information and tries to process it,
translating hearing into movement,
and that disturbs our previously learned movements.
And so we feel disoriented.
That's why the movements we trained
don't work in the new space anymore.
They were good only for the practice room.
And that's the reason behind "but I could play this at home".
Because we could really play this at home.
But we didn't train to adapt, we just trained the movements.
This perspective opens up new opportunities for
our practicing habits.
For example, practicing in as many different
surroundings as possible,
exchanging practice rooms with colleagues,
e.g. practicing in each other's living room will
give us the chance to adapt.
Training ourselves to listen to our
sound in the room and not in the instrument.
Having a more 'surrounding' hearing
altogether will make our playing and
our stage presence more dimensional and subsquently more powerful.
We want to teach our students to practice
smarter and not to just practice more
and we are always looking for ways to make more
of our practice time and use it wisely.
And this can be a new starting point, for them and for us.
*The cover photo is 'The Music Lesson' by Vermeer, currently located
in The Royal Collection, The Windsor Castle, London, UK.
Maria Busqué is a coach for musical performance and a freelance harpsichord player based in Berlin.
You can follow her on twitter, @maria_busque
visit her HELLOSTAGE page
or find out more about her work at www.mariabusque.net.