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  • Writer's pictureErnst Simon Glaser

Ingebrigtsen brothers and cello practice

I really enjoy sports. One of my favourites is athletics. I remember as I child watching the amazing 1500m races run by Steve Cram and Sebastian Coe. Now, living in Norway, we have the amazing Ingebrigtsen brothers to watch for these middle distance races. There is also a series in Norway about the Ingebrigtsen family and how they live. This is especially enjoyable for my family as my son is also very much into athletics.

During the last 10 years or so I have become increasingly curious about the the way in which athletes plan their training. There are two things that strike me about the differences between classical music training and sports preparation and planning.

Periodisation and pace training.

Periodisation is the planning of the training intensity and volume to be able to perform optimally at the time of a competition. I won’t go into too much detail here but one variation I have seen is this:

Basis- Basic training to get the body ready for the next and much more taxing period

Fundamental- Training to build capacity and strength. This is the longest period where the training is most intense but not extremely specific (depending on the sport).

Specific- Training specifically geared to the sport. In this period the volume and intensity is lowered whilst there is more focus on weakness and techniques within the sport

Competition- Maintenance. This is the period where the training is designed to maintain or slightly improve during the competition period

Recovery - rest and light work to give the body the opportunity to replenish over a period of time. Light maintenance work.

This kind of periodisation goes over a whole season for athletes and within these periods there is usually lots of detailed planning as to what will be trained and how within the various periods.

One of these interesting methods for runners is training paces.

When watching the Ingebrigtsen brothers I noticed that their father will tell them how much time a certain interval is supposed to take. I did some reading and lots of training plans have similar detailed training paces based on the type of training and the benefits the training is supposed to give.

So how does this relate to classical music?

I have often felt that there is little to no focus on the planning side of preparation in classical music. There is this approximate “feeling” of how much time we need to prepare something. Generally there is also little focus on what types of practice we need to do in order to have the best possible result at the concert. There is often a feeling of “last minute, cramming, I’m so stressed” as concerts get closer rather than being able to relax, work less, and have a surplus of energy for the performances.

Perhaps we can learn from sports training and experiment with planning our practice into periods and being specific about speeds in order to build control but at the same time stamina. A plan inspired by this could look something like this:

Period 1- Fingerings and bowings. Listening and studying music away from the instrument. Finding out what your ideal tempo would be. Orientation of the music, its history and what it is about. At this stage also practicing very slowly (50% of ideal tempo?) taking great care of staying relaxed and playing in tune with good balance.

Period 2- Work period. This is where most of the foundations are made. Working through firstly under tempo (60-70% of ideal tempo) and gradually building up to about 80% of your ideal tempo. It is wise to try your 100% tempo now and then to see if you are practicing things in the right place of the bow for your tempo. This is the period where you will be spending the most time practicing the piece. You will also study the score, reading about the music and composer and listen to the work. If there are difficult passages these should be practiced in isolation and if there are techniques you feel you are weaker at (double stops, octaves, spiccato etc) then this is the time to devote extra time to this.

Period 3- Concert work period. This is when you bring the tempo up to 100% and perform the music through regularly, even daily. Practice and play throughs can also be under tempo but not too slow. Here is where you can practice more according to the needs that arise during the play through. Here it is also a good idea to have mock performances and get family and friends to listen to you. As the performance gets closer you will hopefully feel confident about your expectations and be able to practice a little less so that your muscles and mind are rested and energised for the performance.

Period 4- Maintenance period. This could be when you are between performances of your program if you have more than one performance. You won’t be working at the interpretation in particular now but playing through regularly (but not daily anymore) and working through the piece at about 80% of your ideal speed.

Give it a thought. Perhaps you have other ways to organise your practice? Let me know!

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