Musical Education: How to Practice for Excellent Results (Part 2)

For obvious reasons, practice is the most important thing for learning and mastering a piece of music. Anyone can practice, but not everybody knows how to practice. “What on earth is she talking about? Practice is practice,” you may be thinking right now. But randomly running through a song a hundred times isn’t going to give you the results that you’re looking for.

Below I have listed out all the tips that I have found extremely useful in learning a piece of music and mastering it. Not that I’m a pro or anything; if they were all my ideas, I wouldn’t venture to say them. But they are all used by the pros, so they are tried and true to help you get the farthest.

Also, my brother Nathan, recently did a post on practice over on his blog. You should go see it! (And believe me, I wasn’t trying to copycat!) You can also see part one that I wrote here.

#1 Slow it down!


Don’t even let the thought of playing your new assignment at normal speed into your mind. Slow it down until you can play with almost no mistakes. This is going to be really slow at first, but hang in there. The important thing here is to not let your mind constantly wander. Concentrate on your music and let the rest of room vanish.

Once you have got things down a bit more concretely you can speed it up a bit more.

#2 Break it up


The worst and slowest kind of practice you can do, is run straight through a piece, from beginning to end, a ton of times. Break it up into several large sections and work on the first, and only once you have that pretty much down, should you go on to the next section. But don’t forget to come back and play the last section every once in a while.

Within each of these large sections of the piece, pick out the difficult spots. Run over those places at a slow speed until you have them securely cemented in your mind. If you find a spot you often trip over, practice that portion by itself.

If you run straight through a section over and over and bumble on the hard spots without practicing them individually, you will make those boo boos only firmer in your mind. You will probably struggle on them for a very long time.

#3 Be Focused


Keeping your mind in focus while practicing is crucial. It’s easy for the mind to go into off in the world of imagination and  spacing out after a bit and not use the concentration that you should. If this happens, simply put your mind on something else for a minute. This might be playing a different song once or completely removing yourself from the room to get a drink.

But don’t let yourself get too distracted. Come right back and put your brain in focus mode again.

#4 Mr. Metronome is your good friend


I’ll admit here, that I used hate metronomes with a passion!  My brothers would kindly inform me that my tempo was all over the place. With my former experiences with the “ticking time bomb”, I would look at the small instrument and then shiver in horror. No way! The thing was too confusing! It was so hard to know if I keeping up with it, or going faster.

To this day, I still have a little difficulty, but I can honestly say I’m good friends with metronomes. What changed? I have learned to slow down. All the above pointers aid in this. Generally I would either set the speed too fast for the entire piece, or at a good pace for most of the song. Since I didn’t know to condense things down and work on the hard spots, I tripped all over my toes because I didn’t know where I was going. And besides, the insistent tick,tick, tick, tick of  a metronome is a little disconcerting. 🙂

Work with a slower tempo and then daringly speed up little by little until you’ve reached your desired speed.

……And then, you can think about the concert!

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Just as a side note, I didn’t put in about mental practice because I’m quite new to it. Hopefully someday I can write about it. In the meantime though, I would highly recommend doing a Google search about it. 🙂

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