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Modernizing Practice Paradigms for New Music

Periodization Theory and Peak Performance Exemplified Through Extended Techniques

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Jennifer Borkowski

The author examines how new music scores with extended playing techniques call for new practice structures. YouTube access to basic instructional videos and the streaming of sound files allows musicians today to learn easily and independently. Yet, the trailblazers in new music tackled new scores without these aids; they used imagination, experimentation and tenacity. Conscious use of both learning modalities can augment ideas of practice and performance preparation; expanding new music’s reach while preserving its fire. Practice is differentiated between the quick learning for an upcoming performance and the transformative learning that new music offers. Periodization theory from sport science provides a pedagogical framework for building both mental and physical stamina leading to peak performance.
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IV. Mental Preparation – Conscious Preparation

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IV.   Mental Preparation – Conscious Preparation

a.   Reading and Listening

Because of the diversity of new works and the need to learn a new sound language, conscious preparation means learning the composer’s language and style. Concrete listening assignments can lessen the guilt about the time away from the practice room. This is the first paradigm shift in modernizing practice routines; preparation includes more time away from the instrument. There is musical maturity and stylistic understanding to develop. For example, a student focusing intently on learning a Mozart concerto might not find the humor and lightness as readily as a student who is also familiar with his comedic operas. New music is not any different. Understanding the composer’s mind through multiple works and texts facilitates cohesive interpretations. Listening should be done critically, however. A quick listen “to see how it goes” doesn’t move us further down the path towards musical autonomy.

Since there is comparatively little formal coursework in new music, reading assignments are also important. A student should take the initiative to identify the compositional school and corresponding philosophy that the composer belongs to. Music theory and aesthetics since 1945 are largely based on philosophical texts.

Personally speaking, I found Brian Ferneyhough first accessible through written texts. I felt that I understood his thought process before I understood his music. The essays from which I have already quoted have been paramount in shaping my work. Beyond my formal work, these essays gave new...

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