chapter  6
46 Pages

Lessons From J.S. Bach: Stages of Practice

We began with two questions. First, how does a performer memorize a new piece? We have seen that one of the hallmarks of expertise is a remarkable ability to memorize. Yet studies of expert memory have all been done in areas involving conceptual skills, with chess masters, mathematicians, physicists, and the like (Ericsson & Smith, 1991). There has been little work on expert memory in domains involving complex motor skills and none on expert memory in musicians. Do the principles developed for other domains apply to piano performance? Second, what does a per former think about while playing? At what level are the details of the performance consciously controlled (Wegner & Vallacher, 1986)? The performer has to reconcile two apparently contradictory goals. She has to play accurately, hitting all the right notes and keeping track of where she is, and she has to convey to her audience the emotions expressed in the music. How does a pianist meet both the technical and aesthetic demands of her art? How can a person mindfully perform a highly overlearned skill?