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How to Practice



Ever wondered how you should practice? Have you ever found yourself stuck, unsure of how to progress further?


If that's you, fear not. Here are some simple tips for productive, efficient practice.


Warm Up


Before you start sports training, you warm up, right? The same applies in music practice as well.


Before playing a piece, ensure that you are relaxed. Relax both shoulders. If you tense them, you will create difficulties during string changes, especially if you raise the right shoulder.

Also relax the lower right-hand arm - this ensures that you have as much arm weight on the string as possible, improving your sound.


Do some technical exercises targeting specific issues on the left or right hand. This will make playing your pieces easier.


Perfect Practice Makes Perfect


The old adage "practice makes perfect" is a bit misleading. Instead, it should be "perfect practice makes perfect".


That is not to say that imperfect practice is completely futile. You might manage to play a particular piece - but at the cost of using more time than necessary. You'll entrench bad habits, due to the acquired muscle memory.


As students move on to higher levels, the consequences of bad habits becomes more apparent. Trying to correct muscle memory acquired over several years becomes a Herculean task, made worse when trying to balance music practice with school work.


Therefore, when practicing, do not mindlessly repeat sections. Care should be taken in ensuring that aspects such as posture and technique are done correctly. Bad habits acquired from imperfect practice will only come back to haunt you in the future.


Practice Slowly


This should be fairly obvious, but unfortunately it is not.


Often, students think that a mistake is just a one-off - that with better luck, they will not make the same mistake again. Or, they practice at a fast tempo because they are limited for time - thinking that practicing slowly to correct the mistake is too time-consuming.


The reality is that with slow, careful practice, you'll build up the muscle memory for a particular section. With the correct muscle memory, you'll be able to master hard sections. At that point, you can speed up.


Doing the opposite means coming back to the same trouble spots over and over again, without being able to fix them. This wastes time.


Target Trouble Spots



If you're limited for time, focus on the trouble spots. These are the spots that you're prone to making mistakes in. For violinists, think of passages with fast string changes, semiquavers (or demisemiquavers), and/or constant shifting.


There is a certain enjoyment to be gained from being able to run through a piece. You feel like you're performing. However, this is misguided. If you just run through a piece, you won't be able to address trouble spots.


Thus, practice known trouble spots first. If you're limited by time, it is better to target individual spots than running through an entire piece. You'll build the necessary muscle memory to master them.


Repeated Sectional Practice


For such trouble spots, practice in sections.


This means practicing bar-by-bar, slowly. Listen to the intonation carefully. If there are incorrect notes even when playing slowly, fix them. Check with open strings. If the intonation problems are the result of shifting, repeat the shift.


To be sure that you have actually mastered bar, do it correctly for three times in a row. Getting it right once could just be chance. Getting it right twice might still be coincidence. But getting it right three times shows that you have truly got the hang of it.


For some particularly troublesome sections, such as semiquaver or demisemiquaver passages, practice beat by beat, in groups of 4 or 8 notes. Once you have mastered a group of notes, expand the size of the group, until you reach a bar.


Likewise, when you have mastered a bar, begin expanding to 2-bar sections, until at last, you manage to play the entire trouble spot without error, three times in a row.


Learn to Practice without a Metronome


Don't get me wrong - a metronome is a good tool for learning to play a scale, exercise or piece in a correct rhythm.


However, you don't have the luxury of a metronome in exams, at performances or when you're showing your teacher a piece. You'll need to count on your own. To do that, you'll need to sometimes practice without a metronome.


Once you've got the hang of a piece - when you're approaching the final tempo - start doing this. Try practicing with a metronome first, and then try without it. Make sure you're counting the beats - either by heart or with your toes - when doing the latter.


If you're unsure whether you're playing at the correct rhythm, record yourself playing without a metronome, then check with a metronome afterwards. Note where you're speeding, and target those spots, making sure to count properly there.


If you start practicing without a metronome earlier, you will have a more stable rhythm when you play in exams or at competitions.


Conclusion


If you follow these simple tips, you will find that your practice becomes more efficient. You will be using less time, and you will improve your playing.

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