I want to share with you a method that can save you a lot of time while practicing a new song, and it can vastly improve the quality of your practicing. It can be applied to practicing an entire song from start to finish, or a song that you are close to mastering but not quite there yet. I have divided the method into three simple steps:
- Identifying and marking the problem areas
- Practicing and mastering the problem areas
Let’s imagine that you are practicing a new song, and you are now at the point where you are close to mastering it, yet there are still some parts that require improvement. As you are playing through the song, you still stumble upon a few specific parts of the song.
The most common mistake that people make in this situation is that they are not thinking rationally about how they could save time practicing in order to complete the song. Instead, they keep trying to play the song over and over again from start to finish, and keep making the same mistakes. By starting the song from the beginning and playing it right through to the end each time, you are wasting a lot of time on parts that you already know how to play.
What you should be doing in this situation is focusing all of our energy only on the parts that are not yet perfected. This brings us back to the simple step by step process:
1. Identifying And Marking The Problem Areas
a) If you find yourself in the problematic situation described above, you should first identify, then clearly mark down all the parts of the song that still require improvement. This can be done by playing the song from the beginning and pausing every time you encounter a difficult part, then writing down exactly where in the music the problem is. Not only should you mark the problem areas on the sheet music, but also mark the bar before them, so that you can later practice the transition from the earlier bar to the problem area.
TIP:If you are practicing a song using sheet music, it is recommended that you keep a marker or pencil close to you. This will allow you to make different kinds of notes while you are practicing the song.
b) If the problem area is over four bars in length, you can divide it into seperate, smaller parts. This will make it easier to practice the parts seperately and focus on smaller bits at a time. Remember, some parts SHOULD be practiced in longer strips too, it depends on the musical context of the specific part. If you divide some parts in two, make sure to practice them both seperately and together.
c) Once you have found and written down all the problem areas within the song that you are practicing, it is time to start improving each area. Create a written plan of the order in which you will practice all the problem areas.
2. Practicing And Mastering The Problem Areas
a) Start practicing the problem areas in a low tempo. Use a metronome to help you keep the beat.
b) As you are practicing, make sure you are playing every single note correctly and as clearly as possible. Also, make sure you are using the right fingering and technique, this will make a huge difference. If you are not quite sure of the fingering, pause for a second to really think about what the best fingering for that specific part could be.
c) When you are able to master playing the part in a low tempo, start lifting the tempo up gradually, until you hit the point where you are slightly above the final tempo. It is always good to practice things to the point where they are slightly faster than what the required tempo is, because that will give you certainty and confidence about playing the song through or performing it.
d) Keep practicing until you have mastered all the problem areas in the required tempo.
a) Once you have completed the first two steps and mastered the problem areas, it is time to play the whole song through again. This will help you get a better idea of the song as a whole as opposed to focusing on specific parts at a time. It will also give you a chance to improve your interpretation of the song. If you still encounter some problems, go back to steps 1 and 2 and repeat the process.
b) Use a metronome and play it through in the final required tempo, then try to play it a little faster, then a little slower. Playing the song through slower will help keep you relaxed and more in control of the song. It will also help you more clearly identify the rhythmic parts of the song.
c) Finally, recap the song without a metronome up to the point where you will be happy with it and ready to perform it to an audience.
© Matti Carter
About the author: Matti Carter is a professional musician and piano teacher in Tampere, Finland. If you are interested in taking piano lessons, you can contact him directly. Be sure to take the necessary steps in order to become a great musician today.