“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” We all understand that practice is crucial for successful performance. However, it is important to realize that, actually, success comes much more smoothly if students practice smart. The quality of practice is more important than the quantity. Thirty minutes of quality practice is much more productive than two hours of aimless, thoughtless practice.
Successful practice leads to successful performance. Here are some tips to help you practice smart:
1. Where? Where am I having problems? Where do I want to be in the score by the end of the day, the end of the week? Where should I start practicing today?
2. Why? Why am I having difficulty with this part? Why did the composer give the piece this title, change to a minor key, vary the dynamics, write legato and then staccato, write an accent on this note, etc.?
3. What? What does _______ mean? What do I feel/see/think when playing this piece or passage? What does it remind me of? What am I doing well? What can I do to improve? What do I want to accomplish today, this week? What are some strategies I can use to solve a problematic passage?
Slow it down! Slower practice leads to faster progress, I promise! Slow it down to a tempo where you can play perfectly without hesitating, varying the tempo, or second-guessing yourself. Then, gradually increase the tempo. If you make a mistake, go back and decrease the tempo again!
Break it up! Set a goal for the week with your teacher, and then break up the passage/piece and set daily goals that help you reach your weekly goal. For example, if your goal is to learn 20 measures by the next lesson, your practice plan might look like this:
Day 1: learn 5 measures
Day 2: review previous 5 measures, learn two new
Day 3: review previous 7 measures, learn 3 new
Day 4: review 10 measures, learn 2
Day 5: review 12 measures, learn 3
Day 6: review 15 measures, learn 2
Day 7: review 17 measures, learn 3
Day 8: practice all 20 on day of lesson, starting with problem areas
For problematic measures, pianists can break up hands, playing left and right hand separately until completely fluent and then adding hands together slowly. For difficult transitions, students can break up the measures, playing the last part of one measure and the first part of the other until a smooth transition between the measures is accomplished. Then, students can practice both full measures together.
Break routine and begin practice in different places, not always from the beginning.
Break up practice time so that you maintain your concentration at all times. For example, you could play 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.
Listen! Listening is putting into practice what you hear from your teacher, analyzing the sounds as you or others are playing, comparing the sound you are producing to what’s written on the page, and noticing the details.
Practice regularly! As my mom used to say, “You can eat an elephant one bite at a time. However, you can’t eat it all at once!” If you practice thirty minutes every day with thoughtfulness and concentration, one measure, one bite at a time, with a goal in mind, I guarantee that you will accomplish much more than practicing many hours in one or two big chunks while skipping other days.
How are you practicing? Now, go practice smart!
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