Practice Makes Perfect?

Yes, for any musician, practice is important, but only if used effectively. If it becomes “doing time” by fumbling through the music without any regard to pitch, rhythm, tempo, or playing form, then all a musician is doing is “practicing a mistake.”   

A better motto would be, ‘Perfect Practice make perfect.” 

The question now is, “What do I do to be perfect?” A place for musicians to start is asking themselves this question, “Can I perform my music with no mistakes?” If yes, then find something harder. If no, then change something so there are no mistakes.   

Two things to change are tempo (by slowing down,) and length of selection (how many measures or notes to work with.) Many times it is necessary to change both; sometimes changing one will work.

 Once a musician has a tempo or shortened selection they can play, it is important to repeat the selected music a number of times without any mistakes. After it feels comfortable the musician would increase the tempo and/or make the selection longer and repeat that with no mistakes until it is comfortable. (A personal preference is five repetitions with no mistakes. Being able to perform a selection five times in a row may be a fluke. If it doesn’t feel comfortable, more repetitions are necessary.)  

Knowing what a mistake is depends on what the performer is working on as well as what level the performer is. Working with a director or private instructor can focus a musician on some areas such as pitch, rhythm, tempo, dynamics, expression, articulation and playing positions.  

 Once the performer can comfortably play the tempo and/or selection five times with no mistakes it would be time to increase the tempo and/or add length to the selection. Every step along the way, the performer must ask, “Can I perform this selection five times in a row with no mistakes?” If errors begin to creep in there is danger of “practicing a mistake” which could lead to performing a mistake.

 No errors can be accepted without the performer making some change either in tempo or selection length to extinguish the mistakes. Having the help of others can help a performer find the root cause of a playing error. Once the root cause is found the director or playing instructor can help a performer create exercises to extinguish a “mistake being practiced.”   

When choosing a selection of music to practice a performer can: 1) start from the beginning of a phrase, then adding toward the end, 2) start from the end, then adding toward the beginning, or 3) isolate a troublesome passage. Using the first two together will overlap phrases and is particularly helpful when memorizing music. A musician can choose selections phrase-by-phrase, or as in difficult passages, note-by-note. This process would continue until the musician is performing the desired tempo and playing the entire piece with no mistakes.   

Yes, it is tedious, but this kind of work can lead to great positive results in short spans of time (five to ten minutes.) Daily practice of this can show positive results in weeks rather than months. Weekly practice of this kind can develop a strong practice discipline, personal motivation, and feeling of accomplishment.   

The bottom line is to improve and improve quickly. This system of “Perfect Practice” can help.

 In a nutshell,  

 “Can the musician perform music with no mistakes?”  

 If not, then:  

1. Break it down (with no mistakes)  

2. Slow it down selection (with no mistakes)  

3. Repeat it many times (with no mistakes)  

4. Speed it up (with no mistakes)  

5. Put it back together (with no mistakes)

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