Have you ever played tennis, golf, or even just thrown a ball? Can you imagine the motion of your arm stopping the instant your racket or club makes contact, or the second your fingers release the ball? No, you must see that motion through to its completion before you can swing or throw again. This athletic concept of follow-through is of similar paramount importance for playing music accurately and with intent.
Most musicians can apply this analogy to their performances literally and receive some benefit. More interesting, however, is the related, but subtle, concept of mental follow-through:
Your mental focus needs to be primarily applied to the note you are playing, until the very last moment that note’s duration is up.
Most of the time, when we are struggling with a difficult musical passage, our mental energy is preoccupied with the upcoming tricky part. In anticipation of this passage, we omit from our focus the notes or note immediately preceding the passage in question. We are doomed before we even get there!
• Because every note is inextricably linked to the one that came before, if we fail to give that prior note its full due, the following one will be unavoidably in the wrong place, or its musical context will be severely weakened. It’s hard to recover from that.
• Conversely, applying extra focus to the note right before a tricky passage will usually result in the successful performance of the whole thing.
This is follow-through: it is both maintaining mental composure, and applying mental focus to the immediate task at hand, so as to affect a musical result at just the right moment.