Some Ideas on Practice
|Make a chart, or table, with a fixed time for every day
of the week along the top, and the week of the year along the left. Tick off
each cell, as you complete your days practice. This chart should be
inspected regularly by family and teacher. Putting it on the wall is also a
||Try to find times that you can stick to each day of the week. For example,
each Tuesday you may have from 5:00 to 5:30 available for practice. If you
have filled this time in on your chart, then your practice room is where
everyone knows you should be at that time. Turn practicing into a regular
event / habit.
||Once you are alone with your instrument, you will have to start organizing
your time and efforts. Only good practice is useful. Practicing
something in the wrong way for half an hour does more harm than good. Just
playing through pieces from beginning to end is not much use.
||Divide your allocated practice time into sections ( 3 is a good number ).
An 1 hour session should consist of 20 minutes scales, 20 minutes etudes (
studies ) and 20 minutes repertoire. It is good to work on different aspects
of technique during the session, because otherwise you might find
concentrating only on one aspect leading to a dead end, especially if you
run into problems. Variety allows different skills to
develop and eventually to help each other.
||Isolate difficult passages and concentrate your attention
on them. Repeat a 2 bar passage, pausing each time in between attempts to
evaluate your progress. Each playing of the chosen passage should improve on
the last attempt. Try playing the passage slowly, or quietly, then up to
speed and with full sound.
||Always maintain the same bowings and fingerings for your
passage. This will help you memorize the movements, as you repeat them.
Changing the bowing just adds to confusion and produces a totally opposite
movement that cancels out your perception of the proper bowing.
||Break down all the movements and techniques in a passage into RH
( Right hand ) and LH ( Left hand ) actions. One time you
will want to concentrate on the RH another time you may want to improve LH
||Practise slowly, then practise more slowly and finally
extremely slowly. Saint Saens spoke this ( or similar ) phrase. Slow speed
gives us time to coordinate our hands and actions. It also to ensure an even
tone is produced with well distributed bowing.
||When your hand or arm muscles ache, stop. Rest frequently
if you are working on 4th finger extensions. Flexibility, agility and
lightness are the key sensations for good Left Hand technique. Brute force,
endurance and heavy articulation are LH killers.
||Do not practice at maximum volume all the time. In fact, 60% volume will
allow more suppleness and will be less taxing for your muscles. You are then
in a position to reprogram them, and they will be readier
to accept new orders. Full tension in bow holds is usually best applied when
the muscles are able to work directing and using tension in an effective and
||Learn passages by heart. To master passages correctly and
with fine style, it important to get way past the "knowing the
notes" stage. Learning the notes by heart is an essential component to
master before being able to give further attention to finer points on style
||Practise in time. Sometimes, though not all the time, it
is beneficial to use a metronome. However, in no cases should a musical
phrase come to a halt in order to "find" the correct placing of a
finger ( for example playing a chord ). Such liberties quickly become a
habit. Timing and steady tempos are essential. If RH and LH actions are
executed to an irregular tempo, the result is havoc and chaos.
||Intonation is best studied playing piano or softly ( a
philosophy of the cellist Pablo Casals ). The ear is saturated and confused
with too much sound. Scales played too slowly are also difficult to tune,
because too much time passes between one note and the next, and the ear
loses its memory of the tonic note in the key. Intonation is best understood
in context with other notes or players.
||Proper instrument care and maintenance goes without
saying. Bows are to be tightened and completely loosened. Strings are best
rubbed lightly with alcohol to clear the string of corrosive perspiration.
This can be done at the end of the day.
||A notebook can help you and your teacher keep track of
your studies and objectives. It is therefore important to have a continuity,
starting off the next lesson at the same point reached at the end of the
last lesson. Each lesson, and likewise each practice session should contain
previous material you have been working on, and new material or passages to
be tackled and mastered.
||Master your passages. Master your piece. Do not move on
to the next difficulty or piece until you have overcome all the difficulties
and can play your current piece to at least 90% perfection. The only
exception is if your teacher thinks you have reached the maximum benefit
obtainable from studying the piece ( perhaps only to 75% perfection ). This
is an exception, however. Never change piece or play a new piece every
lesson or practice session. You must work on a piece thoroughly before
moving on. If you cannot master the piece after much work, then it is too
hard. In this case it is much more valuable to learn an easier piece which
you can master more readily.
||Take note of the techniques and methods used in your lessons. Your teacher
is teaching you how to practise ! You must emulate these procedures
and steps in your practice sessions. If your teacher tells you to
memorize 4 bars at a time, then you must carry out this work during the
week. Practicing must be a continuation of what goes on during your lessons.
||Hearing is best in the mornings. Give precedence to the
morning hours for your timetable on the weekend days when this is possible.
Muscles are softer and looser in the evenings, in contrast.
||Is tension a threat ? Yes & no. It is not possible to
obtain a concentrated or solid sound without tension. However, tension
should be used in a healthy and positive way in order to contribute to the
sound. Negative tension and discomfort is a definite hindrance to good sound
and technique. Understanding this topic requires a good knowledge of string
||Comfort and good style are highly desirable goals. Posture, stance,
relaxed shoulders ( not raised ), rounded 4th fingers, natural bow holds,
curved left hand fingers, passive thumbs, unlocked wrists and many other
factors are best never forgotten. Awkwardness and struggling is not
to be tolerated. Change piece to something easier, which can be
played with comfort and ease and a degree of musical flair. It's always
possible to build up from a lower level.
||Tune up ! Don't be lazy, only tuning your string to each
other, but check your A string with an accurate source. A tuning fork is
good to have handy at all times. The ideal A is 442 - 443 Hz. Most tuning
forks give 440. This is just a tiny bit lower. Some electronic metronomes
can give you a 443 Hz. Most pianos are 440.
||Learn to tune up ! Don't expect your teacher to tune up
for you all your life ! You should turn and push your pegs in ( corkscrew
action ) so they don't slip. Buy a decent Thomastik tailpiece that works if
your pegs are stiff. Apply graphite ( from a pencil ) to the peg if it
doesn't turn ) . The best product for pegs is W.E.Hill's peg solution
crayon. Use Dominant strings ( NEVER metal strings ). Keep all your
equipment in working order.
||Do not discard and forget the pieces you have studied.
Keep them in your repertoire. Keep playing them. Never forget them. Once I
studied the 1st Bach Partita for 5 months reaching 83% perfection. A year
later the same Russian teacher decided to go through them for another month
( attaining 93% perfection ).
||If you have enough experience to bow and finger parts yourself, try
alternative fingering, and pencil everything in. Master that fingering or
bowing, and if along the way you discover or invent better solutions,
don't hesitate in going with the easier and more effective bowing. Do not
make life difficult for yourself ( it already is ! ) and always go with the
more simplified and musical bowings. Large hands will prefer stretched 4ths,
but small hands will prefer the half position.
||Always chose slightly easier pieces than you know you can
manage for public performances, exams and competitions. An easier work
played well is much more impressive than a harder piece played less well. It
is possible to study pieces which are harder, but public performances
require thorough preparation. Distraction, nerves, excitement, worries, and
many other factors unexpectedly turn up. One is never prepared well enough
for these occasions. Do not underestimate these situations.
||Practice studies and études.|
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