Yesterday I wrote about starting small as a way to make daily music practice a habit. Today I thought we would dig a little deeper into how to do that in your practicing.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You sit down to get your time in for the day. You've warmed up your hands and made sure you're in tune.
You know what you are going to work on because you planned that at the end of your last practice session, and now you open your method book to the exercise or song you are going to work on today.
…you start playing, and keep playing all the way through until you reach the end.
Every time you play a wrong note, you stop and correct it, then pick up directly from the note that follows trying to get all the way to the end.
You make it through like this a few times, in fits, constantly stopping at starting at every wrong note, and call it done.
Does that sound familiar at all? I bet it does, because this is the way most people approach practicing music. However, this is a practice mistake.
Why is ‘start to end’ a practice mistake?
It makes sense that we'd approach practicing this way by default. After all, the goal most of us set is to play the song in it's entirety. From start to finish.
However natural it seems, practicing like this is a mistake.
Playing through your mistakes is not the most effective way to learn a song, because you are fixing the symptom (the incorrect note) and not the cause (transitioning from the note(s) before).
So what should you do instead?
Break it down and slow it down.
When you flub a note, rather than simply playing the right note and moving on, you should,
- Fix the note
- Then go back a few notes, and try it again.
- Repeat the process until you can play it right.
If you hit the wrong note again, slow it down.
If you still hit the wrong note, then break it down even further. Just play the note and the note right before it. Move back and forth between those two notes until it feels comfortable.
Once those two notes feel comfortable, add another one before it. Play those three notes in a row until you can play them consistently.
Then starting adding notes. Start slow. Play them over and over again until you feel comfortable speeding up. Then speed up in increments, until you are back to your original tempo.
What you are doing is learning to play the note correctly in context. You are developing the muscle memory needed to move smoothly between notes. You are actually practicing.
The ‘Break It Down, Slow It Down’ promise
When you approach practicing with Break it down, Slow it down as your approach rather than just trying to make it all the way through, your mentality changes. You trade focus and precision for brute force and awkwardness.
Every missed note, rather than being that thing keeping your from hitting your goal, becomes an opportunity to focus in, to simplify what you're working on in order to polish it.
To actually practice and improve rather than repeat and ignore. You’ll enjoy practicing more because you will be progressing faster, and you will see that progress more clearly, because you are focusing on what you are doing rather than on where you want to be.