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Classical 101

Practice: Not TOO Much of a Good Thing

Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Itzhak Perlman

You've heard the old joke, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice."  There are many people, famous and not, to whom credit for the line has been given.  Some say Jack Benny, but the president of the Jack Benny International Fan Club says no.  Another says an anonymous person on the street.  Heifetz and Rubinstein have also been mentioned.

The Carnegie Hall site offers this explanation:

The origin of the joke will probably always remain a mystery, but the best explanation we’ve heard comes from the wife of violinist Mischa Elman. One day, after a rehearsal that hadn’t pleased Elman, the couple was leaving Carnegie Hall by the backstage entrance when they were approached by two tourists looking for the hall’s entrance. Seeing his violin case, they asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without looking up and continuing on his way, Elman simply replied, “Practice.”

Jack Benny, renowned for his awful playing, actually DID play at Carnegie Hall- and was a much better violinist than he let on.  

Itzhak Perlman has played there numerous times, starting with his debut in 1963 at the age of eighteen.  The interesting thing about Perlman's approach is that he, like all other teachers, preaches practice, but not too much.

Ohio State University professor and musician extraordinaire Kathy Borst-Jones brought an article to my attention in which Perlman advocates for practice, but no more than five hours per day.

I'm sure some teachers are doing a facepalm right now.  

Here is what Itzhak Perlman said in a recent conversation with The Strad magazine:

When kids ask me for an autograph, I always sign my name and then write, ‘Practice slowly!’ That’s my message to them. If you practice slowly, you forget slowly. If you practice very quickly, maybe it will work for a day or two and then it will go away, because it has not been absorbed by your brain. It’s like putting a sponge in the water. If you let it stay there it retains a lot of water.

In other words, the quantity is important, but it's the quality of the practice which really counts.

You can read that conversation here.  Below, you can see that practice really DOES make perfect.