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The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,816 ratings  ·  87 reviews
This landmark book enlightens amateur and professional musicians about a way of practicing that transforms a sometimes frustrating, monotonous, and overly strenuous labor into an exhilarating and rewarding experience. Acclaimed pianist and teacher Madeline Bruser combines physiological and meditative principles to help musicians release physical and mental tension and unle ...more
Paperback, 263 pages
Published February 2nd 1999 by Three Rivers Press (first published January 21st 1997)
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Marcus
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, music
This is a raw dump of the notes I took while reading the book:

Intro and Part 1

Regaining motivation
Remember the moment when you knew music would be a part of your life. Are there songs that bring that back?
Find the "unshakable confidence in your musicality"
"Passion, confidence and vulnerability are evidence of musical talent"
Are you repeating passages in your practice out of desperation to gain "technical security"? This can "destroy inspiration"
"the qualities of openness, uncertainty, freedom, a
...more
Kathleen
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
Madeline Bruser's book is one that I refer to and return to at least once every semester. In a world of competition and high-stress productivity where musicians (and especially music students) have set the perfection of recordings as "par for the course," Bruser reminds all of us that in order to have a musically fulfilling life and career we must find fulfillment in practicing as well as in performing. Our society would like us to believe that success should be achieved with the minimum amount ...more
Rachel
Oct 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: neurotic musicians
Certain aspect of this book were really helpful, others, not so much. coming from a yoga perspective, the "open heart" concept certainly resonated and it helps my clarinet playing, both posture-wise and musically. When I open my heart, my shoulder blades come down my back and my air pressure gets better. Bruser has lots of ideas to bring out the best, most musical playing in everyone, and how to effectively translate that into a performance situation. I liked how she said instead of pretending t ...more
Barbara
Jun 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-music
The author emphasized relaxation and letting the heart take over. Kind of a Buddhist approach to practicing. I liked that.

The most immediately helpful suggestion she made was to train yourself to really hear what you're playing, by singing one line while playing another. I can see how helpful that would be in working on a Bach fugue or invention. Will have to try that. It seems funny to think that you don't HEAR what you're doing, when music is, after all, meant to be heard. But it's very easy a
...more
Paul Williford
Jun 18, 2014 rated it liked it
This book is not always compellingly written, but the ideas presented can be liberating. For over 45 years, I've started every practice session with the tedium of scales, arpeggios and technical exercises, but Ms. Bruser encourages me to follow my curiosity and explore the music with my mind and heart - and to share that music with generosity and vulnerability. Sorry, Messrs. Hanon and Czerny, from now on I might warm up with a scale or two, but then it's right into the music ... ...more
Cheryl
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it
I have been an amateur musician for years, mostly playing the guitar. A year ago I started taking piano lessons, which I love. I am "retired" now so have a little more time to devote to playing and am always thinking about how to "practice" both to feel more satisfied with the time I have spent as well as becoming a better musician. This book is oriented towards professional musicians who work under tremendous pressure and competition, something thankfully I don't live with-one of the many good ...more
Lily
Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2020, how-to
When you've been playing an instrument for a long time, it can become easy to take certain sounds and sensations for granted and fall into a rote practice regimen. This book is a heartfelt wakeup call to anyone who is in that state. The advice on comfortable posture, careful listening, and vulnerable self-expression has already influenced my playing and choice of music. My only complaint is that the writing style is overly conversational, in a way that made the book way longer and more repetitio ...more
Veronica
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you are looking for an affirmation that the fear you feel during performances or that the frustration you feel during practice is normal, look no further. The Art of Practicing acknowledges all of the raw emotions musicians feel at the practice stand and gently reminds us that our frustration only means we care and our fear only means that we are vulnerable; and care and vulnerability are what make music come alive. I really needed this book, and I’d venture to say you do, too!
Catherine
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As an adult learner, this was my first foray into reading about how to be a better pianist. What a great way to start! This is part-musical guide, part life-coaching guide! Many of the suggestions on how to become a better musician, can be directly applied to how to be a more authentic person. Having said that, there are lots of great practical lessons on how to approach your practice, eg. starting with stretching, which stretches are helpful etc.

What I found especially useful were the last sev
...more
Marshall
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Madeline reveals one fundamental truth about practicing, that it is an art form by itself. This book doesn’t educate readers on “how” to practice, rather it introduced readers to “why” we practice, and the profound joy of good practices.

Madeline advocates that we approach practice with a sense of humor. All musicians across all levels go through a journey of musical mastery. All musicians are humans, who are full of flaws and who improve by learning.

Madeline advocates that we cultivate the art o
...more
Katy
May 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Some nice anecdotes and a few good suggestions in here, but honestly I found most of this completely alien to my music-learning and -performing experiences and not helpful or relevant at all. The author seems like an awesome person who I would love to get a drink and talk with, but for me this particular book just wasn't what I needed. ...more
Ryan
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was an inspirational boost of morale, a collection of many new perspectives, and echoed much from my teacher. Exactly what I needed this summer!

The author is a pianist, and although some ideas are universally applicable, some sections get into the minutiae of piano playing that do not matter to me at all. My only complaint, such a good book!
Caroline
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Contains a lot of common sense wisdom that should not be new to any artist... but is so easy to forget when you most need it! Just like compliments from mom, sometimes we need to hear things spoken by someone else in order to truly believe them. Along with helpful strategies and exercises, Ms. Bruser reminds us to never forget what music making is really all about. Highly recommend for all musicians and teachers!
Emily
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it
The prologue and final chapter were my favorite parts of this- they were about playing music from your heart and embracing your own gifts, however they may differ from the talents of others. The biggest message throughout this book was to trust yourself and make sure practicing is something you enjoy rather than force yourself to do. A lot of the book was about very specific stretches, body positioning with your instrument, and breathing work, and I was personally more interested in the emotiona ...more
David
Jul 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a good one, but I think it caters more toward professional and aspiring concert musicians, rather than amateurs. I picked it up specifically because I've been struggling with my own practicing; I fall into the category of one who is uncomfortable with my instrument and frustrated by my inability to express myself. I think that some of Bruser's early "steps" in her process are more applicable here, but some of the later steps seem to be more concerned with drawing out nuance and subt ...more
Acer Pseudoplantatus
Dec 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: music, music-misc
This book contains quite a few useful ideas on practicing and performance and valuable concepts about and advice on posture and movement, but unfortunately it is repetative, filled with new-agey bullshit (mainly misconceptions about energy and resonance that the author is constantly refering to) and
fake/invented-seeming anecdotes.
The bulk of it unfortunately was tedious and annoying, even though there are some beautiful thoughts.
Anne-Marie
Jun 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Band Nerds :D
Recommended to Anne-Marie by: Ms. Kaiser (my flute/piano teacher :)
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was helpful. REALLY boring in some parts, but pretty interesting in others. The author has a lot of "revelations." For example, she talked about this one time when she was sitting at the piano bench and had an epiphany that changed her entire life. And she wants people to meditate before they play an instrument... sounds like Professor Trelawney to me. ...more
Kayleigh
Oct 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is just a great book to read about music, creativity, and ergonomics, all in one. It was a pleasure to reread, and I highly recommend it.
Kyla Squires
The writer is a Shambhala Buddhist and this colours her writing greatly. Some good ideas, but far too new-age-y to be of much use to me.
Julie Kuvakos
Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
I really enjoyed the insights in this book as both a student and teacher. As a student I think I’ve realized how I can sometimes take the joy out of my practicing by being so rigid and goal oriented - all of which are practically speaking great qualities but it can take away from musicianship and playing from the heart. As a teacher this gets in how I teach sometimes too and for some students this can fail them (in particular the very musical and highly creative ones). Though I still hold to the ...more
Niranjana Sundararajan
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
My first book on the art of practicing. Learnt more than I could imagine. Especially the first few chapters(talking about the developing the mindset for music) and the chapters on the piano (posture, movement, breath work, connection) specifically.

But honestly, skimmed through a lot of the book where she wrote about the specificities of instruments other than the piano. Found the percussion and traditional section especially tedious (sorry!)

Don't suggest purchasing this book, rent it/borrow it,
...more
Louise
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
I’m glad I read this book. I’ve tried the stretching exercises and found them helpful in reducing shoulder and neck tension.

Some suggestions are not things that I would ever want to incorporate into my teaching though. Pointing out to teenagers that they and everyone they love will die one day, so as to give them a sense of urgency? I’d rather just let them be, thank you very much.

I’m pretty certain I’ll never read this book again, but it’s good to read different ideas often, even if just to fee
...more
Emily
May 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book was just ok. What most resonated with me was the part that discussed preparing for playing...stretching, settling in, being present, and tuning into your heart. After that, the descriptions were sometimes hard to follow and would best be taught/modeled in person. I can tell this author has a lot of experience and wisdom to share in regards to practicing and performing, it just didn't transfer well in book format. My favorite books on playing so far have been "Performance Success" by Do ...more
Cassi Hunter
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book when I was looking for directions on how to avoid RSI, after a week of struggling with pain on my right arm. To some extent, I got what I was looking for, but to my surprise I got A LOT more. In this book I got new ideas on how to make my practice routine (wich is a everyday thing for me, as a music student and professional musician) into an exciting event on my life. This book is totally worth it!
Ken
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've come to know a few books on practices, but a chapter in this one made me want to own this for the family's musical journey. Far from just detailing the techniques to physically preparing the body for a practice, it sheds light on how to open up one's inner vulnerability to let the audience to listen one's music from his or her heart. ...more
Yennie
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bruser does a great job describing all of the techniques that will help a musician become more in tune with themselves (pun intended). I think everything she talks about will be useful for musicians of different instruments and of different levels. Especially having recently gotten into meditation, I think everything she talks about is very useful and will help my growth as a musician.
Nancy
Feb 19, 2020 rated it liked it
I had hoped this book would be helpful for those of us that play an instrument for the love of it —not just for those playing as professionals. There were some tips I can use, but it didn’t have the nuts and bolts to practicing as I was hoping. I thought the overall theme was mostly to be more mindful when playing, whether practicing or performing.
Karen
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, music
The suggestions and exercises are too advanced for an amateur, yet too basic for a professional musician. I was hoping to get something out of it as a teaching tool, but nothing stuck me as useful other than a general concept of physical awareness.
Tony
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I think almost everyone will find something useful in this book.

The author approaches music making from a meditative/Zen viewpoint, but also includes a lot of practical ideas.
Juan
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is not always compellingly written, but the ideas presented can be liberating.
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Author of the highly acclaimed book The Art of Practicing, pianist Madeline Bruser is a Juilliard graduate who has trained in mindfulness disciplines for 35 years. She has performed as soloist with the San Francisco and Denver Symphony Orchestras and has taught workshops at the Juilliard School and other conservatories throughout the U.S. and Canada. Her book has sold 75,000 copies and has been t ...more

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“Whether you are five years old and irresistibly drawn to the piano in your home, or you are an adult who suddenly falls in love with music and decides to take lessons, the knowledge that you belong in the world of music is deep and indestructible. It is part of your basic nature, as much as the color of your eyes or the sound of your voice. Even your choice of instrument might feel choiceless; you hear a piano or a cello and somehow know that that is the instrument you must play.” 4 likes
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