Practicing: run-throughs vs. small chunks

I was never taught how to practice, but I remember the point at which my practicing became much more efficient. And this is really what we want, right? To get the most out of the limited practice time we have? Often, I find that my students only tend to run through music during their practice time, and there are inevitably technical issues in their playing that remain, causing them to stumble time after time. Run-throughs just aren’t effective as more focused practice, which requires more concentration and self-discipline. But it’s worth the extra work; the payoff with more focused practice is huge.

Consider these ideas when approaching a new work:
– Listen to a quality recording of the piece. Yes, this counts as practicing!
– Do a quick run-through of the piece to get a feel for it and where the difficult areas are.
– Work on those difficult spots slowly and with a metronome. Choose a slow enough tempo that you can play it accurately and gradually increase the tempo as it becomes more comfortable.
– Actually write the tempo of each problem area in your music (in pencil) so you remember where you are the next time you practice. You will probably have different tempos for each difficult section of the work, but that’s ok. You’ll eventually work them all up to the same tempo. Don’t forget to update the tempo in your music after you’ve made progress.
– In particularly difficult sections, it may be necessary to break your practice down into just 2 or 3 notes. This may seem too simple, but it’s a much more effective use of your practice time than simply running through the music and making little, if any, progress.
– Save run-throughs. Start doing more of these as you approach a performance to get a feel for the work in its entirety and to start building endurance. It’s also helpful to do occasionally to assess how well your practicing is going, but it’s simply not effective enough to be your sole practice strategy.

Next blog post: Specific ideas on how to break down practice more efficiently!