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Practice Tips - Improve More Quickly

Updated: May 6, 2018

Do you ever think you're working way too hard for very little musical gain? Maybe it's how you're practicing. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Start by identifying the thing that is the most difficult in your piece.

  • Isolate that tiny passage from the rest of the piece.

  • Identify the exact problem you're having.

  • Identify how to solve that problem.

  • Work only on that specific problem and stay focused!

  • Integrate your solved passage back into the piece.

If you are smart about how you practice, you'll spend less time hacking through the tough parts and have more free time to play the fun stuff.

Let's use this passage as an example:

Following the steps from above:

1. You have identified this as difficult. Congratulations!

2. You have isolated it from the rest of the piece. Well done!

3. Now, we have to figure out why it's difficult.

Is it the rhythm? Let's look more closely at that. All of the stem-down notes are the same length, so that's easy! The stem-up notes are really the same length as the stem-down notes, the composer just wants you to know that they outline the main melody.

So. We've realized the rhythm is actually quite easy, which means the problem is somewhere else. These notes are all easy on their own, so the difficulty must lie in playing them all quickly in a row. Ha! There's the exact problem identified! Step 3, conquered!

4. Now comes the "how" - what is an efficient way to fix this? You can approach it from a variety of ways, from just playing the passage so very very verrrrrry slowly that you never make a mistake and gradually speeding up, to changing the rhythms in the passage (more on that in another post). But this very moment, right now, today, I'll let you in on my favourite practice trick!

This is the technique I use all the time to tackle exceptionally sticky bits:

Start with the outline.

By playing the main notes of the melody, you learn what the structure of the fragment is.

Find the patterns between.

Look! These notes are all A-G - something you could play in your sleep.

Now that you've become familiar with the structure, start from the end.

Work on the last group until you can play it perfectly and up to speed. (This includes notes, rhythms, dynamics and articulations.) JUST THAT GROUP.

Move back one group, landing on the first note of the previous group.

It's really important to overlap the groups so you don't end up with gaping holes when you are done.

Again, work on this group until you are able to play it perfectly and up to speed. JUST THAT GROUP.

Continue in the same fashion until you reach the beginning of your wee snippet.

Next step: starting at half speed, play alternating groups all in a row.

Use your metronome and only speed up when you can play it while thinking about what you're going to have for lunch.

Repeat the last step, but working with the groups you skipped last time and thinking about supper.

Now try the whole fragment!

Suggested speed: half tempo to start.

Let me know how things are going, and if you have a specific flute problem you're stuck on!


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