Conservatoire Life, Practise

Fixing mistakes – problem solving in practise

I have a confession to make, I have a bad habit that I’ve been trying to break for years. Practising in mistakes. I think this has to be the most common error musicians make when practising, I know this because there are so many chapters in books and articles dedicated to just this one topic. We convince ourselves that it’s okay to skip over the technically challenging bits because we’ll come back to them at a later date. The problem is, by then it’s too late. The mistakes have been made and practiced in, so fixing them becomes a laborious task that takes more time than if I hadn’t taken the ‘lazy’ approach.

I’ve mainly got out of this bad habit now, but every now and again I catch myself falling back into old habits. Ultimately, it comes down to how well I can concentrate during my practise. I’ve come up with a few ways to avoid this happening, by turning practise into a problem solving exercise. Once you see the results you’ll never go back to the way you were practising before. I’ll often find that a good 2 hour practise session that is focused on problem solving will be more beneficial than practising for 6 hours with no goal or purpose.

  • Begin by learning new pieces at a slow tempo, so slow that you can’t make any mistakes
  • Play hands separately,
    • this isn’t just reserved for beginners!
  • Look at your hand,
    • is the reason you’re slipping off the black keys because your hand is too far away?
    • is the bridge of your hand collapsed? could that by why scalic passages aren’t rhythmically even?
    • are you playing with flat fingers when they should be curved?
  • frequently check the position of your wrist and make sure it is aligned with your forearm and hand, but not rigid, the wrist needs to be soft
  • Use rhythmic variations (S=short L=long), the combinations are endless!
    • SSSL
    • LSSS
    • LSLS
    • SLSL
    • LLSS
    • SSLL
    • etc.
  • Accent different beats and fingers
    • e.g. accent finger 4 every time it is played,
    • e.g. accent beat 3 of every bar,
    • this is great for developing finger independence and muscle memory.
  • grouping notes together in beats to form a cluster chord
    • this helps the hand to recognise the position and remember it when you play the notes as written

These are just a few things that I find useful when practising, however there are lots of resources out there that offer great practise advice too!

Books to read

The Inner Game Of Music, Barry Green:

Practicing With Purpose, David Kish:

Improve Your Piano Playing, Dr John Meffen:

The Art Of Practicing, Madeline Bruser:

The Art Of Piano Playing, Heinrich Neuhaus:

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