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Reid, Stefan

The Art of Good Practice: Analysis of Effective Rehearsal and its Role in Individual Musical Development

Ph.D. Royal Holloway, University of London (forthcoming)

Musicians spend more time engaged in practice than in any other activity, and it is therefore astonishing that so little scholarly attention has been devoted to it. Existing knowledge of musical practice is based largely upon anecdotal observation, although somewhat more rigorous surveys of practice have recently been carried out by certain psychologists. The latter have been largely restricted to quantitative studies, however, concluding that the greater the amount of "deliberate practice", the greater the level of acquired expertise. The findings of my Master's dissertation pose a fundamental challenge to these rather simplistic conclusions, suggesting that the quality rather than the quantity of practice activities is of principal significance in an individual's musical development. More recent qualitative studies (Gruson 1988; Miklaszewski 1989; Hallam 1992) have been of an exploratory nature, concluding that more research is needed in this area.

A thorough-going investigatioin of the importance of quality in practice has been the starting point of my doctoral research, which aims to explore the constitution of "good" practice, addressing such facets as the development of motor skills and, in particular, the formulation of interpretative frameworks - surely the most important element of the musician's art.

Musical interpretation is, of course, one of the most difficult issues to define. The performance of a piece of music consists of three elements: the score - representing the composer's intentions; the performer's realisation of the score in sound; and the reception of that sound by the listener. "Interpretation" links each of these elements and makes each individual performance of a work unique. My study consists of two elements:

  1. a detailed study of the literature on practice and skill acquisition
  2. a series of studies which will be used to assess the validity and efficacy of certain practice techniques.