The fun part about playing music is the ability to perform a piece you’ve mastered. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get to that point. Practicing is usually frustrating and generally unpleasant. Just as composers suffer the “tyranny of the blank page,” so too do performers have the comparable struggle of learning a challenging piece they don’t yet have under their fingers.
So, how do you get through the very real struggle? Here are 5 tips to help you practice:
1) Take it slow. There is a great temptation to play a piece at the given tempo right from the start. This comes from a desire to master the piece quickly. Unfortunately, it takes time to develop that mastery. Playing sections slowly, and increasing the speed very gradually, will help you get the piece “in your fingers” - that is, you will develop kinesthetic memory for it. More importantly, you won’t pick up a bad habit: if you play piece too quickly, you’ll make mistakes, Keep doing this, and those mistakes might stick with you!
2) Repeat, repeat, repeat! It’s boring, but, like playing sections slowly, it will help you learn a piece to the point where you’ll develop a kinesthetic memory for it. Don’t try to play the entire piece at once; learn it section by section, and once you’ve mastered a section, move on to the next one.
3) Reduce distractions to the greatest extent possible. Focus on learning the section you are studying. Don’t be tempted to play other, unrelated pieces. If you have trouble concentrating or get frustrated, take a break, but don’t get lost in other things.
4) Maximize the productivity of your practice time. Set aside a specific amount of time to practice – even if only for half an hour. Much more important than the amount of time spent practicing is the QUALITY of the practice. If you know you’ll only be able to meaningfully practice for 30 minutes, then set aside that amount of time. Two hours sounds good, but if you only focus for a small fraction of that time, then have you really practiced for two hours?
5) Play in front of supportive friends. Playing in front of other people is a very different experience from playing alone. Your friends can better evaluate dynamics, phrasing, and other musical elements no less important than just the notes and rhythms. Most importantly, you will be better equipped to play in front of your actual audience!
What is your favorite practice tip? Let us know!