Mastering any physical skill like executing a perfect pirouette, playing an instrument or throwing a baseball, takes practice.
Practice is a repetition of an action with the goal of improvement and it helps us perform with more speed and confidence.
We live in the 21st century when time is really not on our side and that is way we need to learn to be efficient.
When it comes to learning a piece of music, many of us do the same common mistake of playing a billion times from the beginning to the end, hoping that this way the notes will be learned, brain will eventually memorise and the piece will get closer to perfection. Don’t you think this method it’s very superficial, chaotic and with an unsure ending.
There is a better and more effective way to practice, which can reduce your practice time to learn a piece from 100% to 40%.
Here is a step by step plan to help you organise your practice and save time when beginning a new piece:
I. Take the score of the piece that you want to learn and listen to a few recordings. This way the brain will memorise the melody, harmonies and you will get a good idea of how it will need to sound in the end. When you first try it at the piano, you will feel that learning goes more smoothly.
II. After going through it a few times, try to split the piece into chunks. Make sure the chunks are not too long or too short. If it’s too long, the brain will struggle to memorise and it takes more time. If it’s too short then the musical phrase won’t have any sense.
III. Now practice the piece chunk by chunk till you get more familiar with notes and fingering. You should already be aware of the passages that are harder and will require more time. Make sure you highlight the hard ones.
IV. Now try to focus your attention and most of your practice time to the hard bits of a piece. If it’s a fast passage which involves a pretty good control of your technique then don’t forget the rule, practice SLOW and in time, you will notice the speed will go up.
V. After getting closer to master the hard passages of a piece, the next step is to start sticking the chunks together into bigger ones. Again, I recommend practicing in a slow and under control tempo so you avoid mistakes and you give enough time for your brain to see and execute all the movements and details written in the score.
VI. In a piece of music you will always find similar passages or even some that are exactly the same. Make sure you notice the small differences when there are, or just be aware that the passages are exactly the same. This way you don’t need to practice the same thing twice. Time saver.
VII. After following these steps, you will shortly see that the piece starts to be more fluent, comfortable to play, with many passages memorised without you aiming for that and also, speed will not feel like a problem anymore.
This is some of the steps that I follow to learn my pieces and to be honest I realised that this way, a 75 pages piano concerto which used to take me 8-9 months to be able to perform at the highest level, now it takes me 2-3 months and this is just because I am organising my practice, structuring the piece into hard bits and easier ones, focusing on the hard ones first till I master them, never aiming for a high speed because that will come eventually and trying to always find patterns to help me memorise easily.
My next article will be about how to bring a piece of music to life, so make sure you follow us.