Talking About Practice
“Practice or repetition, is the "secret sauce" of getting better at things. Whether it's basketball, video games, or music; practicing is the best way to improve your skills.”
Allen Iverson was one of the greatest basketball players of the last century. He once won the best individual award a player can receive, the Most Valuable Player award (MVP). Iverson will forever be remembered not for his play, but for an interview that has become iconic with sports fans. Iverson's coach was upset that he had not participated in a scheduled practice for the team and had told the media about it. Iverson then went out to face the media and rattle off his famous rant: "practice! We’re talking about practice, not a game, not game but practice!" (If you have not seen this little gem of sports history then you should Google it.) This quote has become one of the most impersonated sports quotes of all time.
Mr. Iverson would not be happy about this month’s article, because it's all about practice. Practice or repetition, is the "secret sauce" of getting better at things. Whether it's basketball, video games, or music; practicing is the best way to improve your skills. So here are some helpful tips for "practice!"
1. Play through the piece. If you are going to learn how to play a piece of music you need to play it many times.. In the first few times you go through the whole piece, play or sing slowly with attention to what the notes are and how you go from note to note. After that, start looking at the rhythm. Beginner pieces usually have very little differences in rhythm. That helps get you started.
2. Do short sections five times. When a beginner student can identify and recognize a hard part of the music piece, that’s an important milestone. Next comes the ability to play that tough part by itself. Then, playing it five times in a row, cleanly, means the student will soon progress to intermediate.
3. The Slow Down Technique. This follows naturally from the five times repetition. You play through the piece at a comfortable, moving pace and slow down for the hard parts to play them accurately. This might seem like a bad idea to the music teacher advocating a steady beat. Sometimes you hear the advice, Play through the whole piece at a pace that works for the hardest part. But that is mind numbingly frustrating. I can’t do that myself and I don’t ask students to do it.The slow down technique is a little tricky to do well at first. It avoids the horror of fixing a flub. Every music teacher has heard this. The student plays a piece, makes a flub, a wrong note, stops and goes back a little to play the part right. Many times the part is still wrong the second time. If you hit a flub, stop. Use the three times repetition carefully. Then just go on. You integrate the hard part into the piece with the slow down technique.
4. The Easy Memory Method. This is a way to get a different part of your brain involved with your practice. You play one or two bars of music. Stop and turn 90 degrees. Play the part again without looking at the chart. You are involving short term a until you complete the piece of music.
5. Learn the last part first. It’s common to realize that we can play the first part of a piece much better than the second part. This may be because we have spent more time on the first part and played it more. It also may be an example of the primacy effect. (The primacy effect, in psychology and sociology, is a cognitive bias that results in a subject recalling primary information presented better than information presented later on. For example, a subject who reads a sufficiently long list of words is more likely to remember words toward the beginning than words in the middle.) Whatever we see first or hear first sticks better than what we see later. First impressions rule. We can use this principle to our advantage. Spend a number of sessions starting with the second part. In my own practice, I’ll often begin with the B section of the tune. It helps the learning process.
6. Identify the sequences and play them back-to-back. In etudes, pieces, tunes and songs you will find sequences. These are groups of notes in a relationship that appears in other keys in the piece. Sometimes many notes separate the sequences. That’s when you have to look for them to identify them and group them together. Once you find them, play them one after the other, without the intervening notes. Get the feel of how the relationship of the notes is the same. When you do this process just a few times, you will be surprised at how much the whole piece improves.
7. Play it easy. For string players who must play a part up the neck on a lower string, play it in the lower position first. I have seen students make huge improvements just by playing the up-the-neck passage two times in first position.
8. Use a metronome. You didn’t think I would miss this one, did you? The metronome is the primary practice tool of the pros. By the time they go to the metronome they have already used one or more of the other techniques. This is the one that puts the polish on the piece. It also tells you where you stand. You end up with a number that represents the fastest pace you can use and still be accurate. (You can also find the flubs when you push yourself a little past that number.) For this kind of practice you need a metronome loud enough that you hear it over the sound you are making. The flashing lights help, but sound is essential.
One last thought. Learning a piece of music is a little stressful. First, there is the stress of getting acquainted with the piece. Second, there’s the stress of the harder parts that don’t sound as good and compromise your performance. Any stress affects your performance adversely. Every technique you use to master even part of a piece reduces the whole level of stress. Thus, it helps the whole performance. Practice time gets you through the gateway to excellence. Practice technique is the helpful companion that makes those times less of a burden.
Written By Eric Brown Instructor @ Musicology School of Music
Student of the Month
1.What instruments do you play?
Piano and Voice
2. How long have you taken lessons? 2 and 1/2 years.
3. Who are your favorite musical artists?
ZZ Ward, Adele, A Fine Frenzy, The Paper Kites
4. What are your other hobbies, besides music? Waterskiing & Gymnastics
5. Favorite Food? Sushi
6. What is the coolest thing you’ve learned in your lessons in the past three months? Learning how to sing “into the mask”
7. Do you have any performances coming up? The Talent Show at Hampton Cove Middle School.
Teacher of the Month
Vanessa Miller Mantis
1. What are the things you like most about teaching? I enjoy the fact that I get to help my students express themselves musically. I love seeing the joy on their faces when they improve on a piece of music they have been working on diligently
2. How do you inspire students to practice more? I remind my students that the more they practice, the more they will enjoy playing or singing each piece. That's why we play or sing music: to have fun!
3. What’s the best Practice tip you have? Don't feel like you have to sit down and practice for 30 minutes straight. Take your practice time in smaller increments, like 10 minutes at a time a few times a day. DO set aside the same time every day if you can, as if you were making an appointment with yourself that you can't break.
4. What is you favorite type of music?
It depends. My favorite choral music is gospel. My favorite popular artists to listen to and sing along with are Natasha Bedingfield and Sara Bareilles. My favorite piano composer is Claude Debussy.
Please welcome the 29 new students who enrolled at our school in the month of September!
Chris S Chad B Ava N Lisa W Sarah Kate M Molly B Ashley M Ryan F Jonah B John C Bradley & Mathew U Sarah Beth T
Battle C Marcus P Dylan F Harrison J Lauren Z Alex D Sara P Peyton N
Jacob W Jenn Mc Lauryn Mc Hunter M Leslie S Rodney S Katie S Daniel K
Musicology School of Music teaches over 500 students a week from the Huntsville / Madison area.