The Violin Channel recently caught up with American cellist Michael Mermagen at the Aspen Music Festival and School – where we delved into his approach to tackling a new concert work.
“Often I find in my experience students take perhaps the backward approach to learning a new piece,' Michael Mermagen has told The Violin Channel, “ … I think a better approach might be to actually study the piece a little bit without the instrument.”
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MICHAEL MERMAGEN | ASPEN MUSIC SCHOOL & FESTIVAL | TACKING A NEW CONCERT WORK
"One of the questions a lot of students ask me is what should my approach be to learning a new piece?
Often I find in my experience student take perhaps the backward approach – which is to listen to a recording and practice it up to tempo - trying and get everything as quickly as possible nailed down.
I think a better approach might be to actually study the piece a little bit without the instrument; Look at the score, study a little bit about the composer, get a feeling for what characters are being expressed in each phrase, study the architecture of the structure of the movement, get a feeling for what it is you want to express.
Since one of the most important things about performing is communicating the music to your audience, I feel you need to have a very good sense of what that meaning is.
Then after you get that meaning and get those characters decided on, then you can use your tools of tone, vibrato, articulation, timing and types of rubato.
All of these elements are your tools of vocabulary to develop the language that you use to express the music to your audience.
And the better you get at using these tools and the language, and the more fluent you become, the more instinctive you play – and you can even enjoy some spontaneity in the performance.
So when you practice, don’t forget to practice slowly and carefully to work out all those details but also take a different approach and start without the instrument and study the music a little bit."