Practice Tricks to Try from “The Young Musician’s Survival Guide”
April 28, 2011
Looking for a useful book to share with students? Amy Nathan’s book is packed with tips, stories, resources, and quotes from professional musicians, all geared towards the young musician as the reader. My favorite section is the woodshedding basics chapter, and it includes a handy list of tips for learning new pieces as well as finding solutions to fix trouble spots. Students can easily find this book in the library or purchase it at low cost, published by Oxford.
Sometimes even at the top of our game we can get stuck in boring, unproductive practice sessions. Most of us teach our students regularly to vary our practice strategies, but how often do we shake things up in our own practice sessions? Have a great practice strategy not listed here? Notice one that you’ve used with particular success? Or remembering one you haven’t used in a while? If you’ve got something to add, drop us a line. I’ve added a few of mine at the end.
Practice Tricks to Try
Don’t just practice parts you do well. Practice those you have trouble with.
Make sure there are no distractions.
Play a hard passage in different rhythms so your fingers become used to playing it a variety of ways.
Play the rhythm on a single note at first.
Playing a passage backwards helps.
Brass and wind players can try a hard passage an octave lower.
Count the beat slowly, clapping each note.
Make up words to go with the rhythm.
Look for patterns.
Sing a passage before playing it.
Use colored pencils to mark note names or flats and sharps if you keep making the same mistakes.
Fingerings are important, figure them out well.
String players should watch fingers to see where they land, to help make sure every note is in tune.
Pianists should practice hands separately.
Cellists can play a hard passage on piano to hear what it sounds like.
When a passage is difficult and you can’t figure it out, circle it and ask your teacher.
Sometimes it is good to take a break and come back to something later.
Give yourself a reward once you accomplish the goals you set for practicing.
Laura’s Practice Tricks
Memorize any tricky spots.
Try playing with different articulations. If the passage is slurred, tongue it, and vice versa.
Try playing with opposite dynamics. If the passage is forte, play it piano, and vice versa.
Try distracting yourself by lifting a leg while you play (try it!)
Try dancing while you play.
Get a bouncy ball to sit on to help you become more aware of your breath, body tension.
Break down etudes and pieces into manageable sections (label them A, B,C, etc. or something else that helps you to distinguish sections and set goals for each section)
Record yourself often.
Aim for concert success by giving regular mock performances prior to the big day.
Laura Lentz ©2011