3 practice strategies

your teacher probably told you to do!

How do you practice? Do you run through your pieces? Play scales? Mindlessly repeat a difficult passage? People often say practice makes perfect, but that is not often true. Practice makes permanent holds more truth in it’s words because this way it forces one to evaluate how one practices to make perfect. Here is the continuation of our post about practicing! Last post we explored how to cultivate motivation for practice, and now we will explore strategies to be top practicers! We will look at the 3 most common ways to practice a passage of our music: Practice Slow, Isolate and integrate, and Repetition.

1. Slow Practice

If you think practicing your piece slowly is boring, you are most likely practicing incorrectly. There’s a reason why many teachers ask for slow practice! Slow practice is the chance you give yourself the chance to play the piece accurately. This is the opportunity to check: are the notes correct? Is the rhythm right? Am I keeping a steady beat? What do my muscles have to do to make the jump, to play evenly, to build a crescendo etc.? And so on and so on! There’s so much to check technically, physically, and mentally there’s no reason to be bored!

2. Isolate and integrate

You’re playing through your pieces and there were a couple of sticky spots that made bumps along the way. This is when you isolate the problem area. Take the passage in question out of context and work out the problem. Use different practice methods to fix the passage. It could be slow practice, hands alone practice, or other methods that will help identify the reason for this problem area. There are endless practice strategies to experiment that can solve these sticky spots! Once the error has been corrected, you have to put it back into the context of the piece. This will make you think about where you are coming from and where you will be going to from the spot you just corrected. Play the phrase, but be sure to also include the next downbeat. When putting the sticky spot back in context, you might want to practice the phrase slow first to make sure things flow at a tempo you can handle before trying it in tempo.

3. Repetition

Lastly, the most common exercise that should happen in regular practice: repetition! Repetition is the key to get your motor skills working! Mentally you read the notes, you listen to the tone and nuance of the sounds with your ear, but you need to teach your fingers, hands, wrist, arms, back, foot, and etc. the necessary movements to play those notes and to shape them. Repetition is the best way to get those notes into your muscle memory. Now, if you repeat something a lot it can get boring. Our brains prefer novelty and pay more attention to something when it is new. So after repeating your passage one way to mastery, try it another way. A different way that makes you hear or think of it differently that will ultimately aide you to where you want your music to sound. Don’t fall into the trap of just trying to play something over and over again til you get it right. Always play it correctly (even if you have to slow down or take pauses) and with intention each time. Make a goal for each repetition. After each repetition you must reflect on what went well, and what you should try next time!

Do any of these practice strategies ring a bell? If you are not already doing these exercises in your practice, add them now! This only covers the smallest piece of what your practice could be! Ask your teacher for some new and different ways to practice to enhance your learning and routine!

If you want more to read, visit the links below to see what top practicers do differently to achieve their goals and another that explores how to look at practice in the micro (technical) and macro (big picture) manner.