A Different Practice Method
Here is an important article on practicing by Scott Speck (Please read, students!):
Your brain is like a computer. It can learn almost anything you put into it, and repeat it back practically flawlessly. Why, then, should it be so tricky to learn a difficult piece of music? I believe it’s because we constantly enter the wrong data into our computer.
Think about this: when most musicians practice a difficult passage, what do they do? They play it at or near full speed, and get it wrong. Then they play it at full speed again, and get it wrong again. And again. And again! Then, finally, almost by chance, they get it right – once. Satisfied, they go on to the next passage.
So what has the brain (and finger and bow arm and embouchure) learned from this practice? It has stored the data that was input the first time, and the greatest number of times – the incorrect data. Can you blame it? Just like an advanced computer, when called upon in performance, the brain can then retrieve this incorrect data flawlessly. The result is a replica of all the mistakes in practice – a very messy performance.
The key to effective practice, then, is never to input the incorrect data in the first place. It follows that if you never make a mistake in practice, you will be practically incapable of making that mistake in performance.
Never make a mistake in practice? How is that possible? Let me show you how.
For any passage within the realm of your technique, there exists a tempo at which you could play it flawlessly right now. Once you find that tempo, you are on your way to playing it quickly and fluently.
Let’s take an example. Say you want to learn an incredibly fast passage made up of thirty-second notes, at the tempo of quarter note = 100. When you look at it, it’s overwhelming. When you try to play it with the metronome set at 100, not only do you miss notes constantly, but you are also seized by a very uneasy feeling. Your stomach tightens up. Your jaw tightens. Your breathing becomes shallow and inefficient. In short, you panic.
But wait. What if, instead of thirty-second notes, this passage were made up completely of whole notes? Could you play the passage right now? Of course. Furthermore, you could play it in tune, in perfect rhythm, and with a beautiful tone. Best of all, you would feel no panic whatsoever. In its place there would be a beautiful feeling of ease and grace.
So try this: Put the metronome on 100 as before, but this time, each note gets four beats of the metronome. In other words, treat each note as a whole note.
Once you have played the passage through, put the metronome up a notch or two and play it again. Still almost laughably easy, right? That’s the whole point. Now keep increasing the speed, going up a notch or two with each repetition. When the beat gets fast enough, lower the metronome again and start playing each note as if it were a half note – two beats to each note. As you progress, you can go to one beat per note. And so on.
Keep repeating the passage, one or two notches faster each time, until you feel just the very slightest twinge of unease while playing. At this point, stop. You have reached the limit of effortless playing for today.
Tomorrow, start the metronome a few notches lower than were you left off today. You’ll find that you can get the passage even faster before you have to stop. By the day after tomorrow, you will be flying.
It is extremely important here to stop whenever you begin to lose that feeling of ease – any further practice would be counterproductive. In this method, we always want to bring that feeling with us as we increase the tempo. The reason is simple: If the brain senses ease in connection with this passage 100 percent of the time in practice, it can only sense ease in performance.
With this method, you can master almost any difficult passage in three or four daily sessions of five to ten minutes each. I predict that when you learn this way, your results will be extraordinarily effective and reliable. And the beauty is, your computer will always retrieve the data correctly.
Try this method with each of the tricky passages in your music. I believe you will be surprised and thrilled to see what happens.