Is Historical Performance Practice Necessary?

Have you wondered what historical performance practice is? Do you ever wonder if it’s necessary for musicians?

Is Performance Practice Necessary? | Hannah B Flute

It can seem like a waste, but there are plenty of benefits to following performance practice. Read on to learn more!

What Is Historical Performance Practice?

Historical performance practice usually applies to Baroque music, such as compositions by Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi. Modern instruments (especially the flute) have changed a lot from the ones that existed at the time those composers wrote music.

For example, the flute back then had maybe one key for Eb. The rest of the instrument just had holes that you would cover. Since then, of course, Theobald Boehm developed the instrument to what it is now.

Other instruments have also changed a lot, such as the oboe, violin, and cello. If you want to perform Baroque music, you may want to consider following historical performance practice to follow the composer’s intentions.

Why We Need Historical Performance Practice

You can find plenty of musicians advocating for performance practice. These musicians may be Baroque specialists or not. Either way, they have a few excellent points as to why we should play Baroque music differently than a modern piece.

Consider the following reasons why we need historical performance practice.

Remember Composers

Following performance practice can help performers and audiences remember and honor composers from the past. It can be an excellent chance for students to learn more about music history.

I know that in private lessons as a kid, my teachers didn’t always focus on the history part of the music I played. Or if they did, it wasn’t in a way that I remember it years later.

You can put yourself in the Baroque era and consider how a musician back then would have played the piece. Then, you can perform in such a way that audiences may not have heard the music, and you can put your own spin on it.

Learn About Music History

As I mentioned, we can use historical performance practice to teach and learn about music history. Private lessons don’t always have enough time to cover history and theory.

So the more teachers can incorporate those aspects into the music they teach, the more students will get to learn. Even if you don’t have a teacher, you can find resources online that help you with performance practice.

Then, you can use what you learn when playing Baroque music in the future. Knowing about performance practice can also help you think about the music in a different way to help inspire your interpretation.

Challenge Ourselves

Another reason why musicians should learn and follow performance practice is for the challenge it brings. You have to practice new techniques, such as creating your own ornaments when playing a repeat in music.

Performance can also force you to slow down. I know when I listen to some people play Bach, they want to play it like it’s virtuosic music. But if you listen to a Baroque specialist, you may hear that they don’t play it very fast.

In fact, the tempos in Baroque music don’t always delineate the speed. They sometimes are more for the mood of the music. And the Allegro we know today is quite different from that of the Baroque period.

The Limitations of Historical Performance Practice

As much as I love and advocate for following performance practice, I know it does limit you as a performer. If you learn about performance practice, you can then decide when you want to follow it and when you don’t.

Consider a couple of limitations that come with following performance practice.

Not as Creative

If you follow historical performance practice, you have to play the music in a certain way. That can really limit your creativity as a musician. You may still put your own interpretation out there, but it may not be that unique.

Of course, you can get super creative with ornamentation. But what if the piece you’re playing doesn’t have repeats? You might not have much of a chance to experiment and do your own thing.

If you branch out from historical performance practice, you can consider the rest of music history. Then, you can decide how you want to play a piece from any era.

Special Instruments

This isn’t so much a limitation as it is a requirement for “full” performance practice. As I said before, the flute from the Baroque era is very different from my modern flute.

If you want to be true to the Baroque style, you may feel like you have to use an instrument from that period. In the case of a flute, you might buy a flute from a modern maker that follows the design of a Baroque maker.

Buying that extra instrument can cost a lot. Unless you plan to play a lot of Baroque music, you may not get your money’s worth.

Historical Performance Practice Is Good

I’m not saying we don’t need performance practice, because we do. It’s an excellent way to share your love of music with the audience. And you can stand out from musicians who tend to use more modern techniques.

If you want to be a professional performer, you can specialize in performance practice. Then, you can set yourself apart from all of the other flute players and musicians who want a performing career.

Even if you don’t specialize in Baroque music, I encourage you to learn about performance practice. That way, you can learn and perform the music in a whole different way.

Do You Follow Historical Performance Practice?

Historical performance practice is an amazing way to interpret early music. But it can take time to learn, and there are some limitations to it. Those limitations can be well worth it though.

Do you want to learn a Baroque piece and follow performance practice? Get a flute arrangement of Bach Cello Suite No. 1, plus a practice guide!


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2 thoughts on “Is Historical Performance Practice Necessary?”

  1. Very interesting. I recently began playing recorder and have a strong interest in the baroque period, and playing my recorder pieces on my flute has been very enlightening–and not always in a fun way. Thank you for another excellent post.

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