Practice in orchestral life : an exploratory study of string players' learning processes
This study explored the learning habits of string players in a professional symphony
orchestra, how they practise, what influences their practice, and how it interacts with
rehearsal. For this, four research questions were investigated: () how complementary are
rehearsal and practice to the learning of orchestral music? (u) how is the practice of
orchestral players approached in terms of methods, regularity, content and structure? (ii)
how do such factors as conductor, musical preference, and loss of individuality affect
motivation to practise? and (v) what are the strategies that conductors use to influence
musicians' commitment to practise?
A triangular methodological strategy was undertaken, comprising semi-structured
interviews, questionnaire, observation, and case studies. These were preceded by a
semantic field research exercise aiming at eliciting the vocabulary participants used in
reference to the phenomena investigated. Forty South-American musicians completed a
comprehensive mixed-format questionnaire; fifteen musicians and five conductors were
interviewed at length; and Twenty-five rehearsals/concerts were observed. Finally, three
case studies described musicians' learning processes for a contemporary composition and
two traditional pieces of the symphonic repertoire.
Results indicated that rehearsal and practice were highly complementary aspects of
orchestral learning. In terms of practice habits, players displayed a large range of physical
and mental techniques to solve musical problems swiftly, as well as considerable
metacognitive capacity. Their practice processes included more general aspects such as
planning, evaluation, setting up goals, and priorities; and specific strategies such as
listening to and playing with records, speed alteration, use of the metronome, as well as
relaxation exercises with and without the instrument. There was also a concern with
balancing the practice of technical exercises, studies, solo and orchestral repertoire.
However, motivation to learn was found to be affected by the conductor, repertoire and
general working ethos, in that order of importance. Conductors were aware of their role
as a motivational force behind players' practice, but assumed varying levels of
responsibility for this. Implications for current and future research on practice and
expertise, and for instrumental music teaching and learning were addressed.