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Mastering Transitions

As we prepare for performances, interviews, speeches or any other “event” in life, it is important to replicate, as accurately as you can, the circumstances, logistics or conditions under which you will be operating. In a conversation with a good friend recently, we were discussing his recent recital. There was one point in the recital in which he had to change instruments in order to play a different piece. The transition and adjustment to another instrument was very disorienting and led to an uncomfortable few moments on stage. When I asked my friend if he had ever practicing moving from that one piece to another and from that one instrument to the other, he replied that he had not!

I have noticed with my students and with myself, that some of the most treacherous terrain in pieces, performances and in life are found in the transitions. This is solid and that is solid, but when I move from this to that, things fall apart. Transitions need to be practiced. In a recent project in which I had to play Vibes, Glockenspiel, Crotales, Tubular Chimes and Tam Tam, the difficulty and challenge really was in the efficient planning of how I would move from one instrument to another, retaining my place in the music, keeping my eyes on the conductor and changing mallets. I practiced the transitions.

If we overlook the importance of transitional moments, we put ourselves in position for failure and sometimes danger.Think about changing lanes while driving. Many accidents happen right there! Part of any preparation is to do “mock” or “trial” performances in order to discover where your weaknesses and pitfalls lie. You may not even be conscious of the transitional moments until you experience them in real time.

It’s funny about transitions. My students often experience problems moving from one phrase to another or from the end of one line of music to the beginning of the next. Here again, if you are focusing in on a specific measure or phrase and start to make progress and to master it, make sure to re-integrate that section into the broader piece by first preceding it with the measure or so before and then seeing how well you continue into the following measures.

Practice transitions in your upcoming assignment and you will position yourself not only to be more successful in that endeavor, but also to be more adaptable, flexible and aware of those often neglected moments that exist between known challenges.

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