I love Chopin, at the moment I am learning to play Nocturne in E Flat Op.9  no.2.

 When I practice the piano I use layered learning, breaking down the learning process into different steps.

How do I do that first I divide the piece into sections, sections that make sense like the end a phrase, which not necessarily the end of the line of music. Small sections work best.

I usually start by using separate hands and then putting the two together, but not until each hand on its own is perfect. There is a lot to consider, timing, rhythm, flow, phrasing and expression.  Usually I only aim for half an hour quality time with my piano, find little and often works best. My playing is not just about my pieces, I like a bit of variation:  warm up, an exercise, some sight reading.  My main aim is get a reproducible performance. Often when re-visit some of my old pieces i am amazed at the improvement.

Psychologists say:  A stimulus enters long-term memory (that is, it is "learned") after it has been attentively observed 7 times. But if an "incorrect" stimulus is first learned, it then takes an average of 35 (!) repetitions to learn the "corrected" stimulus. Learning it right the first time is five times easier than re-learning after learning it incorrectly.

Wow - it is better to learn something right first time around!!

Can the layered learning that I apply to my piano playing be applied to my interpreting? 
Answer yes!! - Its about breaking down the process into steps then repeating each until I can get a reproducible performance.

It is this type of learning that provides the deliberate practice that improves my interpreting performance not all at once but with time.

And the Chopin?...  I am getting there, but it takes time and commitment.


Ever had that feeling no matter what you do, you are just going around in a circle? You are not alone! An essential part of being an interpreter is about reflective practice, which involves thinking about and trying to make sense of the things that happen when we are working (Oelofson 2012). It is no easy task!

Reflective practice its roots in adult learning theory (Kolb 1984) and reflective thought (Dewey 1933). Reflective thoughts have many forms it can be about collecting information and analysing it, organising ideas and carrying them out.  It can be about observation, looking for patterns and connections piecing things together to form a complete picture. It can be innovative or intuitive. Put simply it is about paying attention and having ideas.  It is all about curiosity and there are many models of reflective practice around to give the curious interpreter a starting point. (see for example Gibbs 1998, Johns 1995, Schön 1978).

Brushing up on your reflective skills can be really useful as an interpreter and putting to use just some of the skills above can really improve your knowledge. But is reflective practice enough to improve actual interpreter practice?

We have just had a magnificent summer of sport in the UK with many great athletes winning gold. Athletes train for years and years before they win competitions and they are not alone. Musicians also need ten years of training before they win competitions (Ericsson et al 2007) does their approach to becoming an expert have anything to teach interpreters? - A question for another day. 

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Oliver Hardy was one half of the comic duo Laurel and Hardy, famous in the late 1920 through to the 1940 for their slapstick antics. Oliver Hardy often summed up his feelings of the duos comic calamities with his famous catch phrase.

Now imagine the following scenario; you are interpreting away, it’s all going well and then it happens, your deaf client looks at you with that expression that says “Yeah, and?”, you hear the laughter, your co-worker shrugs sympathetically, your shoulders slump, your confidence drops to your toes, you glance at the speaker and think “well here’s another nice mess you‘ve gotten me into”:  What happened - humour!

image from http://www.laurel-and-hardy.com/home/PICS/l&h2.jpg

Humour inhibites your effectiveness as an interpreter. When it comes to humour, I have often asked myself why, oh why do they do it! And what can I do about it. 

Humour is the subject of many an academic paper and having reviewed some, it seems that humour has a range of functions; it can be use to express solidarity, or power, as a defence strategy or as a coping strategy or simply to amuse. It would seem that these functions can be further subdivided to give an understanding of the strategy a speaker may use. By looking at some of the techniques used to create humour I have been more prepared for when it does happen, but what techniques do people use? Here is a partial list to get you started:

·         Self- effacement and in-jokes

·         Sarcasm, tongue in cheek comments

·         Wit

·         Exaggeration

·         Comic comparisons

·         Anecdotes

(Kahn 1989, Hay 2000, Holmes 1998, 2002, Lee 2006, Lynch 2002, Rogerson-Revel 2007, Thomas et al 1997). Humour is complex and diverse and as an interpreter I have to cope with all forms. Some kind of humour awareness is necessary and recognising why it is being used is the first step to being able to respond to it.  

This is a topic that I will return to again and again.


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