Practicing Pointers

by Dr. Steven Harlos

Here are a few tips on getting the most out of your practice time:

1. The great teacher Dorothy Taubman said that there are no difficult passages, only passages that we do not yet understand. There is a solution for every passage, and the purpose of practicing is to discover the solution. Solution means 100% reliability on every passage.

2. Taubman also states that repetition alone does not always make things better. Sometimes it can make things worse. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make permanent. (thanks to Ben Wilcox for that last aphorism!)

3. Look at a piece of music as a series of puzzles to solve. Concentrate the most time on the most difficult puzzles. Measure your practicing in accomplishments rather than minutes. Don’t practice what you can already do.

4. Develop the ability to know when you are “barking up the wrong tree.” If a passage does not seem to be improving with much repetition, there’s a good chance you are going about it in the wrong way. Try a different approach. Things to consider: fingering, hand position, arm position, choreography (another Taubman term), posture, seat height, amount of tension.

5. On the other hand, stay with a problem until it is solved. Heinrich Neuhaus uses the analogy of boiling water on a stove: how long will it take to boil a pot of water if you keep removing it from the heat every few minutes?

6. Have a definite plan before you begin practicing. Have specific ideas about what you should be able to accomplish in the amount of time available.

7. There are different kinds of practicing, depending on your needs. There is general technical work (scales, arpeggios, exercises, etudes) and work on specific pieces. Even in learning a piece, the nature of practice changes as you progress. Stages of learning are:
1) getting an “image” of the piece 2) working on specific problems 3) putting it together
and 4) practice performing. Don’t eat the cake before it’s baked! (Neuhaus) In other words, don’t try to play a piece until it’s completely worked out.

8. Some of the most productive practice can be silent. Liszt said “think ten times, do once.”


One Response to “Practicing Pointers”

  1. Leslie Oliphant Says:

    I love this list! Thank you so much for your efforts in posting it.

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