On this regional public affairs program, a segment of guitarist Sharon Isbin giving lecture on guitar playing and performance. Topics include confidence, technique, and music memory.
Isbin provides a short demonstration in another program segment for Spectrum.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
(00:00:00) The thing that I found most helpful is to somehow reach a state of feeling where the day of the concert. I feel that I've done everything I could possibly do and there's no point in worrying about it. I know that sounds easier than it really is but if you stop to think about it, that should be the key to the whole whole idea of feeling ready for a concert. And a lot of it depends on what kind of concert it is who you're playing for what the pieces if it's something you've played 50 times or something you're doing for the first time how difficult it is, but there's certain things that I do every time to ensure the sense of security and that's it's mostly a psychological thing. It's a way of finding a method of practicing a method of preparing that makes you feel confidence and ultimately that's an individual thing and it also means somehow finding an inner voice something inside of you that you listen to it responds to each unique situation and says what your needs are and what you have to do each concert is different and each time your needs are also different and if you get too superstitious or too hung up on a routine that can destroy your confidence also because it may involve preparing in such a way that could be destructive to the situation. More on that later. First of all technique has to be something you're secure with now all of this assumes that you can play the piece and you've worked on it enough and you know it and the day of a concert is in the day before it's very important to practice technique. I find just to have the feeling of Liberty that I can do anything with my fingers that I want to on the guitar and that I don't have to worry about that and that by the time I'm up there on the stage, even if I haven't had time to warm up my fingers will respond to the needs of the piece and I practice scales exercises and arpeggios and work on speed. But not more than maybe about 40 minutes during the day because you can over practice a day of a concert and that will also be terrible the memory work that we talked about yesterday several weeks before the concerts. I study a piece mentally and know that I can visualize the entire piece while I hear it in my head and that gives me the confidence that I'm not going to fall apart in the middle of it. And I know exactly where every note is and how each phrase fits into every other phrase and I feel secure about that. (00:02:46) um (00:02:48) I think memory is the thing that people get most uptight about. I know that I have sudden nightmares about am I going to forget the middle of this and when I'm doing a new piece for the first time that I haven't had a chance to perform it becomes almost an obsession and it's something that just becomes you're so immersed in it and it rolls around in your head over and over and over and over again, and that's okay. I guess I can drive you crazy. But I think sometimes that kind of obsession is necessary if you're doing something for the first time and if you can visualize it all you really know it. It's also wonderful. If you can try out these pieces even informally for friends or family or enemies or somebody just to get some kind of response to it that it's great to hear that is bad and some way to correct it and it's another situation you practicing in your room and you don't have the the kind of energy flows as the The enthusiasm being generated by the other party to make you be as immersed in it. As you would be in a concert for me a concert situation is really the Ultimate Experience because everything that I've worked for everything I've been practicing and preparing for is finally put on display but in a way that's not an entity in itself, but something that responds to the audience who is responding to me and that's what makes it exciting because they're part of part of the creation of the piece. That's what makes each performance unique. The audience in some mysterious way is changing the way you're playing the piece and whether you call them Vibes or whatever. It's an active part of the music. I found a very interesting thing happened to me in June. I went to Japan for the first time in my life. And I played 14 concerts there and I had been warned ahead of time that I shouldn't expect too much Applause because it's not customary not the tradition to clapping much during the course of a concert and at the end the audience will show their appreciation and it's true. And at first it kind of blew my mind. I thought why and I was beginning with to Pieces by Leo Brouwer and I was afraid perhaps this was just totally foreign to the audiences and they just weren't going to understand what I was doing. But after the initial shock of it, I just kept going and a wonderful thing happened. I just I realized with the silence that I was getting that they were being attentive and that they were appreciating what I was doing and that was the highest compliment that could be paid the silence and I started to think totally about the music totally about what I was doing and not playing for the amount of noise. That would be generated. Because when you stop to think about it, that's such a stupid artificial thing. Anyway clapping and it's dependent on so many variables many of which don't have anything to do with how you're playing. You could give a terrible concert and have people go stomping wild and that's that's even worse than having them not respond too much when you're playing beautifully and it made me prepare each concert in a different way because I would walk out on stage and I would just throw myself totally into the music and not worry about creating an effect an effect in a negative way meaning judging myself on the basis of Applause, but rather judging myself on the basis of how I was getting into the music and how I was becoming emotionally involved in it myself. And now I freaked out when somebody clap another thing often times people wonder whether or not to practice the music of a concert that day and it used to be that I felt. Well I had to practice everything I was doing that concert go through it slowly or fast or something and many times. That's really not a very good idea because what you want more than anything else is to be fresh when you're playing you want want to get up there and become excited by the music you're playing I'd be bored by it. Now several things are our keys to finding this effect. First of all, you have to choose your program. Well and the first piece you begin with can't be something you sort of warm up to you have to be into it right away and it has to be good music and I think a lot of there's a lot of danger in strictly chronological programming because very often times it has the effect of making the first 15 or 20 minutes that have a gradual easing into the concert, but it's got to start banging right at the beginning and play something you feel technically competent confident with and also something you really adore and that you're excited by and how do you do that without freaking out at the beginning and I found the best possible way is shortly before you go out on stage you practice your Technique all day. Your memory is secure it sometimes helps to just take a walk and get away from it all to think about the music mentally to study it. more than anything else you have to this is sort of a hard concept to appreciate but try as you can to understand what I mean by just becoming in tune with yourself and listen to whatever inner voices there are telling you what you feel you need to do and that's that's true of practicing that means what do you do each day. There's no routine each day. Each day is different. Your needs are different each day. What kind of technique you do? How much what pieces you work on in the same thing is true for a concert. You have to know somehow in your heart. What is necessary what pieces you need to play through slowly or not, touch it all and very often. This becomes easiest when you've given a tour and you play the same program a few times and you know, you know what the shaky spots are and what things you're totally comfortable with and I think whenever possible to give multiple concerts is is a tremendous experience because it grows each time and you're over the initial hurdle of can I get through this because you know, you can and you forget about that and you just throw yourself into the newness of the discovery each time. (00:09:55) So (00:09:56) if you can never set up more than one concert, that's that's a wonderful thing. So once you've done all the preparation. You have to find some way of resting and relaxing your mind your body everything before the concert because it's easy to get so caught up in it. It's interesting Paradox because you can't play a concert. I'm not sure I obsessed with the idea of it. You have to be thinking about it the whole day. You have to be immersed in the concentration. You have to be preparing yourself for the concentration, but on the other hand that that can just derail you because you can get so caught up in it that it becomes paralyzing and you just become more and more nervous about it. So there has to be some way that you know, you can relax And that's when I get back to the idea of having done everything. You can possibly do forget it close the book close the case and just get away from it all and do TM or yoga or something just relax and take a nap and then before the concert itself, I find (00:11:12) that. (00:11:14) The most important thing is to get into the mood of it because I hold primary that when you begin it has to be there from the start of can't be warmed up to so play enough in these a hour or two hours or half hour 20 minutes, whatever you have before the concert play enough until you're playing like you really want to play. We really want to play it's easy to take take the guitar and start playing I'm doing it the notes are coming out but your heart isn't into it because you're you're thinking about the tension of the situation and I find it's most helpful in this case not to play the pieces that you're doing that night, but to take something else that you really like and that you're prepared with and you don't have the attention of performance in it in your link and you just become immersed in the music and at that point you almost forget that you have a concert that night. You just Yuri found your love of flying and once you're in that mood You ready to go out on stage? Because you you have to reach a point where you absolutely can't bear it anymore. You can't bear the idea of not playing. It's true. You have to you have to want so much to be in that situation of sharing it with other people that you couldn't stand the thought of not doing it. And that comes from just playing enough until you're so into it. That that you really want the response also in terms of competitions. It's a little different situation (00:12:55) because (00:12:57) You're going out on stage knowing that you're being judged and you're being pitted against other people, which is a pretty horrible thing. I really disgusted by the idea. But I unfortunately it's one of the few ways now of having a career and of making yourself known to other people. and the more you can approach a competition like a concert the better it is and part of that is dependent upon how the competition is set up. The best situation is where you know that you're allowed to play the entire piece through and that they're not going to stop you. There's nothing more disarming than being stopped at the climax peace and being told that in okay next or or something, but If you can approach it like a concert, that's the best thing and don't worry about the other people involved. Because ultimately only competing with yourself. And if you can play you about possible best, that's all you can hope for and the rest of it. It's out of your hands. It's like going in an airplane. The pilot is going to handle it and it if you're going to crash you can't do anything about (00:14:13) it. (00:14:22) Are there any questions just on this whole Topic at all? Well, you can't do anything about that either. the point is to to meet all of your own responsibilities, whatever those are to the best you can and oh, I forgotten the most important thing really, I've said it already but not in so many words that the thing that the one thing that conquers nervousness is Your Love of music and you're being involved in the music and all these other things are only approaches to Preparing and Paving The Way Paving the way to having the freedom of being involved in your music The Practice the technique the mental concentration. Everything is to give you the confidence and the desire to throw yourself into the music because once you do once you start listening to yourself and that's why in all these classes. I'm just trying to bring out in one measure nuances or things that you might not have heard before because when you listen to those in a concert, that's what absorbs your attention not not the notion that there are people out there judging you or listening to you or anything. It's the music which much must grasp you in which in turn you communicate to the audience just a few words about Technique in and practicing. I think the hardest thing is to learn how to (00:16:02) practice and (00:16:05) a lot of it has to do with developing an ear and a critical response to to what you're actually playing yourself. Sometimes a tape recorder is helpful. But the more you can just create that sensitivity within the better it is for technique. I find a metronome can be very very helpful and disciplining to the fingers to the muscle and also to your mind and I do a lot of work scales and Technical exercises with a metronome finding a comfortable Tempo at which I can begin and not make any mistakes and then proceed gradually Notch by notch to build the speed without becoming sloppy and proceeding at a rate which is manageable. I use for almost all technical exercises just the nail alone. We talked a little bit about that yesterday getting right inside the fingernail of the strings and practicing with that effect. It's helpful to use different rhythms in Scales. I talked about that yesterday too. And this should apply to Pieces making dotted rhythms out of any any fast passage or any passage at all. Whether it be a tip number 1 by V 2 Lobos or 212 ice or anything that requires movement because this isolates into small units. The problem and it permits you to work on small units. So whenever there's a situation where something isn't working out like somebody today played the Grant from the third cello Suites. That's a wonderful piece to play bum bubble Bubble Bum and then switch to babam babam babam reversing it. So that you before you even know it you've taught yourself to play the piece 10 times faster than you'll ever need to and once you get back to the normal Tempo, it's very simple very simple.