Phase 1 – Section by section practice
One section can be anything from 1 bar to 4 bars, but always include the first note of the next bar, this way your sections will overlap and when you put it all back together it will flow seamlessly.
The way you split your piece up into sections is entirely up to you, and will depend on how difficult the piece is, and/or your goals for completing the piece. I find marking the sections on the page really helpful.
You can of course just remember where they are, but personally I get greater satisfaction from mastering “Section 15” than I do from just completing “that bit”. Y
ou can practice one section per day from start to finish, or you could try go from the end backwards. If you always know the start of a piece far better than the end, this technique can really help.
Take one section at a time, and dissect it. Practice the right hand, really focusing on each note/chord and thinking about what you are playing.
Ask yourself questions about it, what chords are there? What’s the rhythm like? Are there any repeated notes or sections? If there is any fingering that you could do one way or another, test out the options and then write down your decision, you need to play it exactly the same way every single time.
Play it as slowly as you need to to make sure you are completely in control and aware of what you are playing. Once you have repeated the right hand a few times try to play it without looking at the music, concentrating on the way your hand looks and the patterns it forms.
Then try playing without looking at your hands at all, pick a focus point ahead of you and don’t look away from it. Now go through the same process with your left hand, and then hands together.
At the end of your practice of your new section, go back over the previous day’s and play the parts you have learnt so far through. But only a couple of times! Your focus should be on the new bit, not on overplaying the parts you already learnt.
Phase 2 – Put it all together
Now you have a good grounding from which to move forward. When you sit down to practice, play the piece through from start to finish, enjoy it! Take a mental note as you are playing of any parts that are causing you trouble.
When you complete the piece, go back and practice any part that caused you trouble, in the same way as you did when you were practicing section by section. When you feel confident with it, work it back into the context by adding a couple of bars before and after it into your repetitions.
If you are learning a piece that is quite long, or particularly difficult for you, you may want to only focus on one larger section per day at this stage, such as 8 bars, or 1 page. Just make sure you are still practicing in rotation and not focusing on one page for an entire week so you do not lose previously learnt material.
If you continue practicing in this way, you will get more and more confident with your piece, until you feel that you really know it.
You won’t just be able to play the music – you will know it inside out. You will not just be acquaintances, but the best of friends. This intimate familiarity can result in the most enjoyable and rewarding experience of music.
If you want your students to learn more practice strategies more quickly, try these practice strategy stickers.