There are four elements which make up a successful performance of any piece. I call these elements “building blocks” because they are roughly dependant on one another from the most basic form of playing on the stage. When practicing any part of any piece you should be aware of all four building blocks, perhaps practicing each of them separately at first
• Technique – This encompasses intonation, rhythm and “special effects” (up bow staccato, for example), all the “nuts and bolts” which make up the piece.
Mastering this element requires slow work for intonation (including no vibrato), careful shifts in “slow to speed” mode, group rhythms and the use of a metronome. When working on intonation assume you are playing 100% out of tune and prove to yourself that each note is in tune, and be convinced it can be produced in the future.
• Sound – There is no use in playing in tune if you are playing ugly.
Working on sound should be roughly divided to vibrato and bow practice. When practicing sound you should mainly listen to yourself for any unintentional sound effects you make when beginning a note and in between the notes. I divide sound to three parts “head of the note, body of the note” and “tail of the note”. Whenever you make unintentional sounds it will be in one of those three parts. A scratch in the beginning of the note (head) could mean you approached it from the air without control, or use too much arm weight too soon. A swelling mid note (body), or extra string sounds could mean you are in the wrong position with your elbow, use too much bow speed, drop arm weight on the bow unevenly or pressing the string too hard on high positions with your fingers.
You should also work on seamlessly moving from one bow technique to another (for example a detache which turns into spicatto). In short: work to achieve pure sound with the bow and good, free, expressive vibrato.
Once you mastered the first and second building blocks you are “on par” with the piece, at the required to actually do something with it, infuse it with your own ideas.
• Musicianship – This element is hard to define on its own, because it affects the previous elements. If you practiced the first two building blocks without acknowledgment of the music idea, you probably wasted your time. Style, sound production, amount of vibrato, expressive pauses, loudness and many other musical elements directly affect the first two building blocks and if you practiced them without being aware of the musical ideas, you would probably sound like an automated machine.
Yet although musicianship is connected to all the other building blocks I still think it should also stand on its own, simply because after conquering the first two elements you should take time and be free to explore your musical ideas and make sure they were not lost in during the long process of conquering the piece technically.
• Charisma (or Stage Presence) – Many times we lose ourselves when we study a piece for a long time, trying to master the perfect technique and mix it with the “correct” musical ideas. Yet no matter how many rules of playing Bach or Mozart are imposed on your playing, the piece should still be distinctly “yours”. Your personality; how you act and react on stage, what ideas and ideals you bring with yourself to the performance and the belief in what you produce, affect the reaction of the public to the performance more than any other element. As part of the practice you should reflect upon what the piece make you feel and what you want to bring to the audience.
We hear so many soloists playing the same pieces, and they all play them in different ways. Regardless of our own, expert opinion about individual performances or style, they all have reached success because they have mastered the four elements.