Flute Punch

How Not to Practice

Posted on: August 20, 2009

One thing any musician has to watch out for is “autopilot” mode. This is when we practice something without paying attention to what we are doing.

It might seem impossible that you can be playing something without paying attention, but it still sometimes catch myself practicing something over and over, yet not really getting anywhere. It’s as though I expect that just because I am blowing air and wiggling fingers, I will somehow get better at the piece.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” seems less accurate than the other old adage, “practice makes permanent.” I’ve never been one to do the penny game, where every time you play a passage correctly, you move a penny over, and if you mess up, you move all the pennies back and start over. Quite frankly, that sounds like low-grade torture to me.

What I do advocate is that every time we play a passage, we maintain awareness, asking ourselves each time we practice a passage, “is this getting me closer to my goal?” If yes, then you can continue on your course. But if not, then you need to change course (which usually means practicing at a slower tempo).

In practice, accuracy is more important than speed. Practicing fast will not allow you to play fast. Practicing accurately, on the other hand, will teach your fingers to play the correct fingerings, which will eventually lead to speed.


1 Response to "How Not to Practice"

Ha ha! I teach my students the “penny game.” For piano I like it two-fold: 1) it gets them actually *listening* to what they’re playing, to see if it’s “correct,” rather than repeatedly bashing through it, and 2) they have to reset their hands – very important b/c “setting up” with the right notes, hand positions, and starting on the correct fingering is something you need to be able to automatically do. Sometimes I have them “shake out” their hands, too, so they don’t become weird claws, so the physical moving of their hands from the R to L of the keyboard while moving pennies (or paperclips, in the case of my studio – heh!) seems to help with this.

“Awareness” and accuracy (vs. speed) are part of my invisible rules on the wall…my first invisible rule is, “If you can’t play it, you’re playing it TOO FAST!” And yes, accuracy – actually *listening* to ourselves play is so important – I don’t know how many times I can play through an entire piece while thinking completely unrelated thoughts – ugh!

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