I recall an infuriating time with a house guest who found herself confined to the kitchen while I was practising in the living room. Every time she heard the playing stop, she came in to ask a question or otherwise pester me.  In the same way that the rests are as integral to a piece of music as the notes, so silence can also be a vital part of practising. That silence between bursts of sound is where our conscious mind steps in, where we figure out why we went wrong, or why we didn’t produce the sound we wanted. We also need to know precisely what we intend to do to change this. Am I repeating a phrase because I want to reinforce an intended result (to make this into a habit), or am I repeating a phrase in the hope that the right result will somehow leap out at me by magic? I don’t recommend this second approach – it reminds me of the monkey and the typewriter and the complete works of Shakespeare – but judging from my eavesdroppings outside institutional practice rooms, it is much favoured. When all is going well, performing can feel like surfing a wave (or as I imagine surfing a wave would feel). It is an exhilarating sense of doing virtually nothing, of just going along for the ride. But this state of mind is mystical, and we can never predict when it will be with us. Certainly we cannot conjure it up at will. Most times, we will probably feel more like the tightrope artiste who needs to concentrate, who might wobble and who might even fall off (why else is the circus such a spectacle […]