In preparation for grad school, I realized one thing: all the tedious, mundane details that I seemingly ignored (at an amazing level) during undergrad will not fly. I am here to focus on the smallest of details.
Although I frequently gloss over fine elements (such as articulation between two notes, tone, etc.), focusing on these aspects specifically (i.e. taking time to really notice what you are doing) not only makes the piece easier to play, but adds to your overall growth of becoming an excellent musician.
Most often, when I don’t feel like I am getting anywhere, it is because I am trying to digest the entire piece at once, when I am unable to comprehend a fraction of that amount.
This attention to specifics is what will improve our playing overall. Really taking the time to notice the voicing of a chord, connecting notes, pedaling, etc. will improve our expressive vocabulary (in a sense that we have an idea of how to do something because we already know it). How can we expect to produce a certain effect when we have never experienced it?
Aim for very specific and deliberate practice, as opposed to approximating a passage. Spend quality time with a single phrase, or measure, and work through the various nuances. Now, this doesn’t mean go and practice a certain technique for hours on end, but to incorporate this deliberate focus on pieces your current reperotire.
An interesting note to end this article: Naturally, I am not wired to focus on the fine details, and more interested in see thing overall structure. Once I feel that I have an idea of the overall structure, then I like to see how the parts add up. I find much trouble focusing on details for the sake of details; I need a specific reason as to why it matters. My point being, know what you are tuned to naturally, and recognize how you can take advantage of that.