Whatever your musical goal may be, it’s very likely that you’re going to need to practice to reach the milestones along the way. In fact, without practice, it’s virtually impossible to improve!
The biggest influence on your ability to progress is in effective practice – both the quantity and the quality.
However long your practice session, there are ways to use that time effectively, enhancing your likelihood of reaching your milestones and goals faster.
Find the specific areas of the piece that ask for greater attention. These might be the sections that promote worry as you approach them, give you technical or coordination difficulties or just don’t sound like you want them to sound.
You’re usually better off spending 10 minutes on one or two bars of music than trying to run through the entire piece twice. Try to avoid the temptation of always starting at the start of a piece when beginning your practice, particularly if you’re already more familiar with that section.
2. Slow Practice
A general rule to follow is this: if you make a mistake, try it a little bit slower the next time. The slower you go, the more detail your brain captures in building your coordination. Faster isn’t always better!
The general aim is to find a speed at which you can play the piece while feeling well coordinated. The benefit of this is massive – you’re cementing in your brain the way you’ll want to play this in the future. By playing quickly and making lots of mistakes over and over again, you’re teaching your brain to remember how to make mistakes.
The speed at which you feel comfortable will change as you become more familiar with the piece and the coordination. Be patient in building up to full speed! Would you rather hear a piece played slowly and well, or quickly and out of control?
3. Novelty Repetition
If the chunk you’ve been working on feels and sounds great, then spice things up as you repeat that passage. It’s a great way to test your knowledge of the section while changing the coordination slightly.
Try changing speed, volume, articulation (staccato vs. legato), different octaves, or adding on the previous or following bar.
4. Spaced Repetition
If you don’t often have the time to dedicate a long single period of time for practice, then spaced repetition will allow you to build you memory of the piece through intermittent revisiting of whichever chunk you’re working on.
Leave the piano or keyboard open and available to play, and every time you walk past, play that chunk! Re-engaging with the piece of music helps your brain to know that it’s something worth remembering. Just think how many times you need to meet someone until you remember their name!
5. Interleaved Repetition
The only downside to chunking is that it can start to get a little boring after a while working on the same small section over and over. Interleaved repetition means playing different sections or different songs throughout your practice, and returning back to each of those multiple times.
For example, if you’re working on piece A, play it for 15 minutes then play some of piece B for 10 minutes. Come back to A for 5 minutes, then go to piece C for 15 minutes. Then back to piece B, and then again to A, and so on and so forth. Re-engagement is the key.
6. Measure Your Progress
It can be difficult to internally measure progress minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, or sometimes even day-by-day. Give yourself some external evidence, like a video or audio recording of your practice every few days/weeks/months. It will let you see and hear your progress a little more objectively. It might not feel like you’ve gotten better, but the evidence won’t lie!
Which of these strategies do you currently employ regularly in your practice?