Technical Considerations
The Nature of Music for the Performing Musician

Technical Considerations

A sound performance is a presentation, a present or gift of oneself, and of the ideas which are represented in the music.

A 'live' performance requires a firm command of the technical elements which serve the motives of the music and of the performer. Traditionally, the technical elements of western musical performance have been represented almost exclusively by a narrow specialization of instrumental and vocal skills, sound production, memorization, etc.* In this book, I have chosen to concentrate on fundamental performance techniques which can be applied to a wide variety of musical interests and styles. These include the elements of focus and relaxation, projection and resonance, timing, tone control, spontaneity, and endurance.

Focus and relaxation refer to the ability of the performer to alternate one's attention between concentrating on a particular musical task, and refreshing the functions of the mind and body which perform that task. Projection requires the performer to focus the intensity of the sound in various directions. Resonance refers to the performer's ability to integrate sounds with the material dimensions of the performance space. This requires repeated attention to the sound as it is projected throughout the space. Timing is the realization of an action or actions which occur in direct response to other events within the music, or within the context of the performance. The timing of various musical events involves directional flow, pace, rhythmic stability, and synchronization. Tone control refers to the ability of the performer to control both the dynamics and intensity of the sound in a precise manner. Both timing and tone control are elements which are most often pointed to as a measure of a player's natural musical ability. Spontaneity refers to the ability of the performer to make critical choices on-the-fly, and to act on them freely and instinctively. Endurance refers to the physical, mental, and emotional stamina required to realize all aspects of a performance.

Most performers have considerable natural ability in one or several of these categories, but rarely in all of them. In order to perform effectively, the performer must exercise all of these functions independently and in combination, integrating the various technical elements within the context of the performance. This is achieved through a process of self-editing or 'proof listening' in which the performer spontaneously focuses attention on each of the elements at different times, constantly monitoring and controlling their effect within the context of the music.

For example, at various points within a performance, one may focus attention on rhythmic stability, then on the projection of the sound, rapidly alternating back and forth between the two elements until the music becomes stabilized. Or the performer may shift attention between focusing the sounds and relaxing them, or on establishing a lively, spontaneous sound. The alternations of the various technical elements and the order in which they occur depend strictly on the individual.

As an additional benefit, this process reduces normal performance anxiety and self-consciousness because it deflects attention away from these conditions, and leads to a state of mind in which the performer becomes attentive to all aspects of the presentation.

* There are many performance skills which are associated with the mastering of musical instruments, such as the production of sound and memorization, as well as more subtle ensemble techniques involving listening and simpatico which are required when performing with others. These techniques have become widely specialized over time, and are practiced in most cultures of the world in various forms. However, these are not the subject of this book.