Thursday, February 14, 2013

Count to "8" for Effective Practice

Rouse the Spouse and I will sometimes head out to the tennis courts for fun and exercise. We don't play games. He's a much better player than I am. We simply hit the ball back and forth, practicing ground strokes or other skills. If we start missing - sending too many balls into the net or over the fence - we'll challenge ourselves to get 10 balls in a row over the net ... or 20. It's amazing how that little game forces us to focus, resulting in better play.

The same idea can be used in music practice. Take advantage of the benefits a little self-imposed pressure can bring. Challenging yourself to perform under pressure will transform your practice time . Setting yourself up for more intentional, focused practice will result in more efficient, effective practice. Here's a little game I play when I need some structure to support my own practice. All you need is a clothespin and the tuning pegs on your instrument.
  • Count off 8 tuning pegs from the bottom of the instrument.
  • Identify the passage and / or skill you will practice.
  • Play the passage. Did you like what your heard? If yes, the clothespin goes on the first peg. If no, try again until you are satisfied with your performance. Then, put the clothespin on the first peg.
  • Now, play the passage again. How was that? You are the judge! Was it perfectly acceptable? Yes? Move the clothespin ahead one peg. No? Move back one space. (Ooh... there's the rub!)
  • Every time your performance is perfectly acceptable you move the clothespin ahead one peg. Every time it's not satisfactory, move it back one peg. Keep going until you make it to peg #8.
  • Note: Once on peg #1, I never go in the negative. I just keep working until I get a good rendition that propels me forward.
Having trouble getting to 8?
  • Slow down.
  • Use the metronome if necessary.
  • Identify trouble spots.
  • Simplify the passage by shortening it, taking out embellishments, etc.
You may ask, "Why 8?" There's certainly nothing magic about performing a specific passage or skill eight times, but in my experience aiming for "8" tends to be challenging enough to expose my weaknesses, repetitive enough to make a significant difference in the effectiveness of my practice, and manageable enough to be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time.

This little game may drive you crazy, but I guarantee it will force you to focus and that will make your practice time more efficient and effective. Want to add a little more pressure? Give yourself a deadline. For example, start 15 minutes before your favorite tv show is scheduled to begin!

Giving credit where credit is due:  The game described above is my adaptation of an idea I found on Philip Johnston's web site Alas, the original info is no longer there. The web site has moved and has taken on a different focus:  Still some good info there!

No comments:

Post a Comment