“What a waste of space.”
Startled Student Stops Playing: “Are you talking about me?”
Wise Teacher: “Grasshopper, it is never about YOU. It is about what you DO. Or what you are not doing, in this case.
Slightly Defensive Student: “Not doing? Everything was correct: notes, rhythm, articulation, dynamics. I was playing correctly.”
Teacher Nods in Agreement: “So you were. That is undeniable. But you could up your game. What were you doing during the rests?”
Pensive Student: “Resting?”
Teacher Opens Her Eyes Wide: “Exactly. Don’t rest. Prepare!”
Four Things To Do During Rests
Musical sheep are those reluctant counters who are content to follow the herd. Leaning on the skills of their pal in the next chair, they rely on someone else to bring them in. It’s quite sweet, really, how trusting they are. But this lazy shortcut actually increases stress!
Yes. You, my woolly friend, are forced into a state of hyper-alertness. Intuitively, you begin to monitor the physical movements of those around you. Eyeing your stand-mate, you wonder: Is she going to come in now? Or now? Even if you do as she does, the outcome is not guaranteed. What if she comes in at the wrong time? Everyone makes mistakes. Risky.
Counting puts you back in control. There is no shame in using your fingers to keep track of the measures. Do what you need to do, but, s’il vous plait, be self-reliant and count.
Catch your breath. Inhale and exhale through your nose to re-establish a normal oxygen to carbon dioxide balance. Next, plan your re-entry breath. Maybe it will be on the upbeat (one beat before your first note) or perhaps you will take a couple of beats to inhale slowly and deeply. (Who knew you had time for yoga practice in the middle of a piece?!) If you need maximum air for a long passage, try taking two breaths, one after the other, to expand the lungs as fully as possible. Keep Calm and Breathe On.
Position Your Fingers
Prepare for the next note you have to play by pressing down the required keys during the rest. Placing your fingers in advance is a clever trick that quickly becomes an obsession—it’s easy and it works. Instead of slamming down the keys at the last second, which is noisy, you can quietly get your fingers where they need to be with time to spare.
Or, less delicately, suck up the spit in your mouthpiece. Once you become aware of this gurgling undercurrent in your sound, it is hard to ignore. Mercifully, most audience members will not hear the rasp and your tone quality will remain unaffected. This is especially true in forte passages or when you are playing with other instruments. But, when you are playing solo, or have a solo entry at a piano dynamic, clear the saliva for a clean first note. Be swift and discreet. And this is a great time to remind you to wash your mouthpiece regularly.
Brilliant Student: “So. If I’m counting and I know when to come in…my fingers are in place…my breath is under control…and the mouthpiece is clear…beginning each phrase must be easy. All that preparation during the rests must build confidence. Sort of like, The Best Defence is a Good Offence.
Satisfied Teacher: “EXACTAMUNDO!”