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'Gifted and Inspired'- Nadia Boulanger.

Piano: 3 PDF Print E-mail
How to practice.
Before You Start

In order to achieve good results from your practise, the following pointers are to be noted:


   1. 100% effort = 100% reward. (95% effort does not = 95% reward). Satisfactory  results are only achieved through maximum effort.
   2. Go straight to the problem in hand, do not prevaricate.
   3. Good  working methods and techniques, allied to 100% concentration will not make a 10 hour problem into a 9 hour problem, rather, they will prevent it from becoming a 12 hour problem, or worse!
   4. "Patience IS a virtue."

The above points add up, in short, to this : Your attitude when working is all important, and no practice session should be undertaken unless you are in the right frame of mind.


The purpose of practise is simple. You practise in order to achieve a particular goal.

This might be:

   1. To master a particular passage.
   2. To reach a good interpretation.
   3. To develop a particular skill.                                                                                        and so on.......

Individually and in combination, achieving these goals contributes to your overall development as a performer and musician. The more goals that are achieved, the further you are along the road that we all are on. Although this road is endless, and perfection is unattainable, the reward is in the journey. This is what makes music such a rewarding lifetime's activity.

PRACTISE (A Methodology)


(Dealt with in depth below)


    * Identify the problem.
    * Isolate the problem.
    * Analyse the problem.
    * Devise an approach and working method for dealing with the problem.
    * Follow the method through, until problem is solved.
    * Integrate the problem back into its context.
    * Go on to next problem........................

Obvious isn't it?................................ Easy as well.

So, what can go wrong and why?

Answers :-


   1. Lack of technical comprehension.
   2. Lack of musical comprehension.
   3. Shortcomings with regards physical technique.
   4. Shortcomings with regards musical technique and musicianship.

      Then there are personal shortcomings:-

   1. Poor concentration.
   2. Lack of determination.

      And so on...........................................


TOCO ( Thought of Chairman Owen) - What you do not notice, you cannot practise.

This is quite straightforward. Let's face it, why practise anything if you have no problems?

Aside from the most obvious of mistakes,the failure to identify problems often arises from a shortfall in that most important of qualities : the capacity for self criticism.( Self delusion is, I sometimes think, the natural state of mind for most people.)

Other failures to identify problems are usually the result of tackling a piece that is too dificult and that you/the learner is "out of your depth."

Note : Teachers should not give pupils work that is too difficult. If the pupil needs constant, phrase by phrase, passage by passage guidance, the piece is too hard.

Note - Misread notes  - are always caused by carelessness and are inexcusable.

Note - Wrong rhythms - are likewise caused by a lack of care.

In this article, though, we are dealing with genuine difficulties, which can be defined thus:

    * Technically complex passages and musical/interpretative difficulties.
    * In the case of technical difficulty, your locomotor mechanism, ear and even eyes, will tell you that all is not well, in even the most subtle situations.
    * In the matter of interpretation, your mind, ear and feelings recognise the shortcomings.

The next stage is where the action starts!


This step is not quite as straightforward as it might first appear.

A series of wrong notes, or a clumsy leap, or a failure to project a melody, may only be a symptom of another underlying difficulty.

For example:

The failure to execute a right hand run may, in fact be caused by the left hand being poor at, say, the trill that it is having to play. The poorly played trill might not be so obvious, but may be at the root of the problem.

It is important, therefore, that you isolate the correct problem. If you don't get this right, you will end up working at the wrong thing and you will waste time.

Experience is very important at this stage of the process. Knowledge accumulated  from previous practise sessions, and the general awareness that comes with the aforementioned experience,in time, makes this stage increasingly straightforward.

Note - The process of isolating problems is closely linked to the the next step.

Analysing The Problem

Problems can be divided into two categories :-

   1. Difficulties which are specific to the piece being studied.
   2. General difficulties.

When analysing the problem that you have isolated, ask the following questions :-

   1. Is there an inherent weakness which is causing the difficulty?
   2. Is this a "one off" ?

If it is a problem which is often encountered (a general difficulty), you should incorporate an exercise, or series of exercises, into your daily technical routine. In time this type of problem will then not recur, and you will learn pieces faster.

If the difficulty is a specific one, you need to work out its exact nature. Then you can devise a routine or series of routines which you can follow in order to overcome it.

Note - The deeper your comprehension of the principles of physical technique, and the greater your musical/theoretical and stylistic knowledge, the more effective your routines will be. See my first two articles for information about technique and interpretation.

Devising An Approach

This is where you must be intelligent and, above all, imaginative.

To avoid making practise a dull and sterile experience, you need to devise fresh and creative,step by step, routines. Avoid a merely mechanistic, "by the numbers" approach.

Treat your difficulty as a challenge to be overcome, not a chore to be endured.

Call upon your knowledge and understanding to construct your routines.

Invent new procedures.

Cut out the irrelevant.

Following The Method Through

TOCO - Practise is the Art of Intelligent Repetition


      Rigorously follow your routines through.

      Repeat each step as often as necessary, until it is thoroughly mastered.

      Do not proceed to the next step until the previous one is easy.

      Don't cheat. Stick to the task in hand until the end .

If, after following all of the above,you have been successful all well and good. Proceed to the next step.

If, however, after a reasonable amount of  time, you have not been successful, reasses the position. Ask yourself these questions:-

   1. Was I really trying my hardest?
   2. Was I practising the right thing?
   3. Was my analysis correct?
   4. Were my routines appropriate?

If the answer to any of the above is no: Start the whole process again, and learn from your mistakes!

Integrating The (Now Solved) Problem Into Its Context

Play from somewhere before the passage to somewhere beyond several times. Get used to it no longer being a problem.

Congratulate yourself on a job well done, and go and have a cup of tea.

Then it's onto the next bit!
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