Hesitations are often the result of poor data entry in the early stages of practice. When you are first practicing a piece of music you are entering data about the pitches, rhythms, dynamics, articulation and other musical elements into your brain (and muscle memory). If this initial practice is conducted at too fast of a tempo, incorrect data will be entered. Even if you play everything correctly, it may not feel like a solid or grounded performance. Incorrect musical elements and/or uncertainty will lodge itself into your memory. In future performance, this poor data will rise up in your mind and be in conflict with what your eyes are reading from the sheet music (or what you are hearing from the recording).
In this early (data entry) stage of learning, you need to practice at a tempo that allows for a stable and accurate performance of the music. You also may need to break the piece into more digestible musical sections (and then reconstruct it as you progress). Once this stable and accurate data is entered into your mind, repetition will solidify it. Gradually, you will be able to increase the tempo until you reach the actual performance speed.
The other secret is training in the specific dexterity obstacles on your instrument. Every instrument had certain aspects to their design that hinder fluid playing. For instance, the saxophone contains palm keys, side keys and pinky keys that are clumsily to manipulate. Poor hand technique (high fingers and large shifts in hand position) on add to this issue. Many students avoid these types of issues as they arise in practice sessions. However, there are many exercises and studies that have been composed to specifically target these design issues. The Universal Method for Saxophone, by Paul DeVille, contains a number of “mechanisms” exercises for example.
Regardless of your instrument, these dexterity obstacles create an imaginary ceiling on the limit of speed you are able to achieve. Taking the time to seek out these exercises and study them with the proper technique is the only way to raise the ceiling. While studying, you should apply the slow first method mentioned in the first section of this blog entry. When in doubt concerning the proper technique, you should research and seek the advice of experts. With today’s internet access the answers to most questions are just a few clicks away.
The proper combination of these two secrets within you practice will allow you to reach levels of playing that you previously thought unattainable. The only other ingredients necessary are time and patients. Becoming a great musician is not easy, but it is very rewarding.