Musicians and teachers are keenly aware of the importance of practice without which the best intentioned student or parent will see little progress. In her book, Rosindust, Cornelia Watkins begins by reporting a conversation with a frustrated student about her practice.
When Watkins asked the student what she thinks about while she practices, the student responded, “Nothing, I guess.”
Watkins admits that “there is almost no need for students to pay attention to their own playing when we tell them everything.” Teachers may jump in too quickly at lessons with their professional observations about what they see and hear during the lesson.
Teachers don’t want their students simply to go through the motions, to put in the time, to check off boxes. So, among the many other ideas in her book, here are a few to do as a thinking student during practice. For younger students, parents can use these ideas to teach their child how to become more aware of their playing using age appropriate words.
The Basic Components for Practice
No matter what practice technique you choose, use this procedure for best practicing.
Focus on one technical aspect at a time. Try to remove the distraction of other issues whenever possible – or choose to ignore another problem for a while.
Make the practice goal specific and stated in the positive. The brain registers messages in positive terms, so say what you will do, not what you hope you won’t do. (For instance, a statement like, “Don’t change to an up-bow on the G this time” registers in the brain as “…change to an up-bow on the G….” Saying “Keep the down-bow through the G, up-bow on the A” is more likely to produce desired results.)
Choose a practice section that is no longer than necessary, with a clear starting and stopping place. Don’t wander on down the page – stay focused on one section until the practice goal is accomplished.
Start slowly enough that the practice goal is immediately attainable. Remember that you’re teaching your brain what you really want it to know, so every successful repetition counts, no matter how slow.
Keep the practice goal conscious during repetitions. State the goal aloud before each repetition if necessary – and be able to observe if the goal was met after each attempt. It’s easy to get distracted, especially after several tries, so be diligent about keeping your focus.
Reintegrate the newly mastered section by gradually expanding the practice section to include measures before and after the original practice section.
Cornelia Watkins is a Lecturer at The Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.
A form of this post was published in February 2014.
“All technique exists to serve the music.” Cornelia Watkins
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