I always have advocated designating a go-to place for practicing. It should be all set up and ready for you to play your instrument, without distraction. Johnathan Biss talks with NPR on his practice space and how it’s helping him get through his nine year Beethoven project:
In response to @HansOngchua regarding how to best use a metronome for efficient practicing, I came up with this list, which was too long to fit into a Twitter message:
- Plan your practice session. Organize which sections of which pieces you need to work on. Figure out how much time it is going to work on each section and to play through an entire piece if that’s part of your plan.
- Practice in chunks. Don’t just set the metronome and plow through your music. Mark off the sections that need attention and deal with them separately – working out the kinks – before you try to play the piece all the way through.
- Start your metronome at a tempo where you can play the section absolutely flawlessly – everything is in place: technique, rhythm, notes, phrasing, tone, etc. No compromises. Starting anywhere faster and you’re going to be practicing making mistakes.
- Take the above tempo and lets assume it takes 4 minutes to get through it at an 8th-note tempo of 60 bpm. Up to the target speed, it takes 1 minute at 120 bpm. If you’ve set aside 10 minutes of your practice schedule to work on this passage, then you should set the metronome for ♪=60, ♪=80, ♪=100, ♪=120.
- Don’t set the metronome for faster than you can play it. If the above scenario is unplayable at ♪=120, try a lower target and compress the in-between metronome markings to fit proportionally.
- Subdivide. I indicated eighth notes above, but these could just as easily turn into quarter notes, half notes, or whatever. It is not uncommon to start in eighth note subdivisions and wind up later on in quarter note subdivisions.
- Make sure the metronome is loud enough. Plug it into speakers or headphones if necessary.
- I almost never use a metronome when playing a piece all the way through. The exceptions to this are when I’m learning notes and want to build technique for a work up to a certain point. But after a while, I break it out into separate sections to work on, so that I can keep certain parts open for rubato, phrasing, and pauses.
- But the key question @HansOngchua asked was of course how to keep tempo during a performance. Unless the piece is some robotic vivacissimo etude, I think the tempo is likely going to fluctuate a bit based on human interpretation regardless. But in general, I try to keep an internal sense of tempo. When I’m performing a work, I go back to that internal sense of tempo from time to time to get things back on track. I think this has less of a chance of being “off” when the performer is confident and not distracted by nerves.
Today I came across this article from Peter Bregman on the HarvardBusiness.org site, titled: The Easiest Way to Change People’s Behavior. It’s an excellent read and highly recommended.
What Peter discusses in this article is that one of the most important motivational factors in our lives is environment. If you put the right things in front of you, you’ll tend to use them more. Move them away, and they’ll get used less.
This goes for good things as well as bad things. On the positive side, consider proximity of the things that are beneficial: The gym is only a block away, so you go regularly. If the gym is far, you don’t go. Some examples based on the article:
- Use a bigger spoon or plate, and you eat more. Use smaller ones and you eat less.
- Live near a liquor store or a Burger King and people tend to drink more and eat more junk food. Place yourselves farther away from those and you tend not to indulge in such sins.
- For musicians, keep your instrument and music in an area where you’ll most likely use it. Designate a practice area and have your instrument either out of it’s case or put the case in an easily accessible area. Music on the stand. Metronome on the desk. Ready to go. (I personally have found having a tuner (iStrobeSoft) and metronome (Dr Betotte TC) on my iPhone to be one of the biggest music practice productivity boosts yet. No searching for gadgets…)
- Want kids to do their homework? Give them a clean, organized place to do it and make sure the homework is there and not floating around the house in some random place. (I know this from experience…)
In a Web 2.0 context, this equates to the usability of your software. Make it easy for your users to get things done, and they’ll do it without a hitch. Throw up roadblocks, and they’ll get stuck. It doesn’t matter how small the roadblock is or whether or not the construct was well intentioned or not – if it impedes usability, then it will impede usability. 😉
In a greater sense, there’s a lesson for the nation or the world: If you want people to change the way they are doing things, make them want to do it. Make it easy for them. Remove any and all barriers to getting things done. You want people to vote? Put voting booths in more neighborhoods or promote the option to vote by mail. Need people to get immunized? Set up neighborhood clinics. Want your employees to be more productive? Find out what is it about your office environment that is getting in the way or not helping promote the results you want to see. For kids, for employees, for citizens, provide the right environment and make it a place they want to be.
As I work on my research for my final project, I came across this gem from “The Science and Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning” by Parncutt & McPherson. If you are a practicing musician or a teacher trying to motivate your students to practice, these points are really worth taking to heart:
- Engage in metacognition—become mindful about practicing and related physical and mental processes. Be consciously aware of your own thought processes.
- Approach practice systematically. Do not go about practice haphazardly. Practice is more effective when it is structured and goal-oriented.
- Engage in mental practice (cognitive rehearsal) in combination with physical practice.
- Invest time in score study and analysis, particularly when beginning a new piece.
- Plan regular practice sessions with several relatively short sessions distributed across time.
- Acknowledge the relationship between time spent practicing and achievement and set out to invest the time necessary.
- Be aware of the importance of motivation. When teachers and parents allow students to make some choices about goals and repertoire, student motivation is likely to increase.
- Listen to high-quality models of musical performance. This is particularly important for beginning musicians. Parents and teachers should invest in a library of fine recordings and, if capable, play and/or sing often for their charges.
- Support and nurture young musicians. Parents and teachers should demonstrate keen interest and involvement in music study and practice.
I would love to hear if anyone has any further practice ideas akin to the above list, or comments on these issues.
This is how I get Max to practice:
Get my bass and his violin out. Ask Max to help me learn his pieces on the bass (i.e. Suzuki book 1, ABCs of Violin, Fiddle Magic, etc…) Play the piece he’s working on and ask him to point out any mistakes. Intentionally make many mistakes. He points ’em out, with much giggling. Ask him to play it for me so I can hear it. And voilà – he’s playing it just fine. Repeat, simply making mistakes where he needs to work on it.
Bonus points: I get to work on my thumb position technique and treble clef reading at the same time.