Practice Strategies

There are many hacks that you can use while practicing.  They work differently for different situations and for different people.  Try some of these in your next practice session.  

1. Elemental isolation

Sometimes it helps to break down a section into it's different musical elements: clap only the rhythm, play the pitches on the same rhythm. and/or practice the articulations and dynamics with a steady stream of air.


2. Slow it down!!!

Your brain is smart and your hands are dumb!  The only element of the music you can change to make it easier is the tempo.  Slowing a section down to a tempo that you can play it correctly allows you to keep your brain in front of your fingers.  Slowly ramp up the speed until you reach performance tempo.  REMEMBER TO USE A METRONOME!!!


3. Interval training

Take one section of a piece and practice it using different time intervals of work and rest.  Here is a sample interval training schedule.

START // 2 min- practice // 20 sec- break // 2 min- practice // 10 sec- break // 1 min- practice // 5 sec- break // 5 min- practice // END


4. Circuit training

Choose 2-5 different sections either in the same piece or in different pieces of music.  Switch from section to section using a set amount of time.

START // 3 min- section 1 // 3 min- section 2 // 3 min- section 3 // 3 min- section 1 // 3 min- section 2 // 3 min- section 3 // END


5. Error targeting and transitioning

Only play what you aren’t good at.  Find the problem spot and focus your energy on making it sound as good at the rest of the piece.  Practice transitioning into and out of the problem spot by starting a measure or two before the error and going a measure or two after.  


6. Take a break

Have you every repeated the same mistake over and over and over again?  Space your practice time out with frequent short breaks.  The break allows you to reset your brain and get rid of any negative loops that you created while you were practicing.  Keep the breaks short so that you don’t get distracted by other things.  


7. The plow through

It doesn’t matter where you are at in learning a piece, it is always a good idea to try to get through the whole thing NO MATTER WHAT! If you make mistakes, so what.  If you get lost, keep going.  Getting to the end puts everything into perspective.    


8. Mental practice

Some of the best practice that has ever been practiced by practicers happened without playing a note.  Running through a selection in your head is very useful.  You can imagine your sound and the sound of the group in your head while thinking of the fingerings for each note, the rhythms, and the tools of expression.  This is especially helpful when memorizing.  


9. One measure at a time

If a song if difficult, take it one measure at a time.  Thinking about learning the whole piece all at once might be overwhelming because it’s too hard or it’s too much.  It’s just music and you are a musician.  Take a breath and learn it one measure at a time.  


10. Chunking

Learn your piece section by section.  You can seperate them by logical musical phrases, label them, and sort them by difficulty.  Once sorted, it is easy to see what to practice first!


11. Start at the end

So many people start learning a piece at the beginning and work linearly throughout the work.  Shake it up a bit and start at the end.  The last thing that the audience will remember is the end anyway, so make it strong.  


12. Overtrain

If your piece is supposed to be played at 120 BPM, try nailing it at 150! Being able to play your piece at a higher level of difficulty allows you to prepare for performance.  During the gig, you might be nervous or there might be weird things going on in the audience.  If you have overtrained yourself, you will be able to think ahead and acknowledge these distractions and not make mistakes.  


13. Whole part whole

Alternate playing the whole piece and playing a part of the piece.  Practicing this way allows you to see how the part functions in the whole and it helps you to work on thinking ahead and transitioning into problem spots.