- The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness
Directed towards college music majors studying the Western classical tradition, The Musician's Way articulates both an artistic approach to attaining mastery of an instrument/voice and a practical approach to achieving professional goals. Its treatment of these topics is comprehensive, addressing, in addition to practical needs, the physical and psychological demands of functioning as a professional musician. Gerald Klickstein, a classical guitarist and teacher at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, says that he intends the book to be "a beacon on your journey towards limitless artistic growth" (p. vi).
The Musician's Way is organized into three sections: "Artful Practice," "Fearless Performance," and "Lifelong Creativity." Klickstein treats these subjects, not as separate and unrelated topics, but as interdependent elements necessary for long-term musical success. The Musician's Way is uniquely holistic. It encourages aspiring musicians to approach their study as a process that will take place over the course of a lifetime. The Musician's Way is not a research-based text. It is rather a practical self-help manual, filled with the wisdom gained in Klickstein's thirty years in the performing and teaching professions.
At the outset, I should state that I am writing this review from two perspectives: [End Page 100] as a professor of piano at a mid-size public university, and as an experienced performer with a touring piano-duo. These experiences inform my critique of Klickstein's book.
In "Artful Practice," Klickstein takes on the heroic task of defining both the 'what' and the 'how' of practicing. Mastery of the art of practicing is a precondition for musical success, yet it is not uncommon for students to enter college poorly schooled in the habits they will need for success in school and the professional world. In my undergraduate piano studio, for example, much of a student's first semester or even a full year may be spent acquiring proper practice and repertoire management techniques. Many students are unaware that artistic performance requires more than correct notes and rhythms. The habit of empty repetitions—playing something over and over again without setting specific goals or applying any critique—is common. Some students do not possess the listening skills necessary to enable critical assessments about their performance. For others, memorization requirements pose a serious challenge. This is often exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of theory or poor general musicianship skills. Managing a large body of repertoire in preparation for juries and recitals is a new frontier. Many students are unaccustomed to a more demanding practice and rehearsal schedule. A sudden increase in time spent on their instrument may result in temporary injury or chronic pain. There are, of course, many other psychological and social issues that arise when students transition to university life.
Klickstein understands this and he attempts to quantify every facet of practicing in painstaking detail. No element is too small to warrant inclusion in one of his many lists and subsequent discussions. Initially, I found this penchant tedious. However, there were always items on his list that I would not have thought to mention to a student. For example, Klickstein's advice on outfitting a practice room lists the obvious necessities: a suitable chair, music stand, metronome, and pencil. However, he also discusses equally essential yet sometimes overlooked items, such as a bottle of water, adequate lighting and climate control, and hearing protection. This mundane example is illustrative of the meticulousness of his approach throughout the book.
One of the most useful proposals in The Musician's Way involves the organization of practice sessions. Many students habitually prepare for very short term goals: lessons, studio class performances—whatever is just around the next corner. Juries, in which students are expected to prepare a short program of compositions, are intended to be a step along the way to longer, more significant performances such as upper division barriers and junior and senior recitals. Students have difficulty managing their practice time to continuously cycle...