We’ve all heard the adage “practice makes perfect.” But there’s a better one out there to follow: “perfect practice makes perfect.” When you practice something enough, you really learn it...perfectly. But this can also include mistakes. That’s why it is important to practice perfectly. Unfortunately, there are many “wrong” ways to practice. And one of the biggest practice mistakes people make when playing an instrument is starting from the beginning of a piece repeatedly. This may insure that the beginning of the piece is perfect, but when mistakes come later, you should never simply start over from the beginning.
Check out this video on perfect practice for some further information! Here, Claire Tueller discusses the importance of practicing backwards as well as the importance of perfect practice.
1. Even Quality and Understanding
As tempting as it is to keep playing through your entire piece or song over and over again, always starting from the beginning, this is not productive and may be doing more harm than good. This leads to unevenness in skill level and an unclear understanding of the music. If you're doing this, you may notice that the beginning of your piece sounds incredible, but slowly until the end it gets worse and worse. This is because you are constantly starting at the beginning.
If you make a mistake, you should never simply go back to the beginning, but instead, isolate the problem area and fix it. If you keep going back to the beginning, you will not know what to do if you make a mistake when performing and you will only keep learning that mistake. The only thing you know is the beginning. You will keep making those mistakes that you never isolated. Starting over is not the answer.
Whenever a mistake arises, stop playing. Look to where the mistake occurred. Figure out why it happened. Were you unfocused? Did you fumble over a tricky passage? Did you play a wrong note? You must identify the reason in order to fix the problem. After determining the issue, fix it. Focus on that note, (or notes), and play them slowly. Repeat the passage correctly at a slow tempo and gradually speed it up again until you can incorporate it back into the piece.
When reincorporating that spot back into the piece, again, DO NOT start at the beginning. Go back a measure or two and play through it through a measure or two after. Gradually increase the amount of measures around it. But whatever you do, don’t go back to the beginning!
2. Solid Memorization
In the interest of playing a piece perfectly, especially memorized, starting points are crucial to good practice. Starting points are places throughout a piece of music that you can start from with no problem. Go through the piece in sections and be able to start from anywhere. This not only insures a good foundation for performance but also makes learning more even. The rest of the piece can sound just as good as the beginning this way.
When you have to play something memorized, starting points can save a memory slip. (Although if you practice “perfectly,” you shouldn’t have memory slips.) If you are in the middle of a piece and cannot remember what you are doing or what comes next, skip ahead to the next starting point. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a song and having to completely start over because that’s the only place you can start from. Starting points will save your performances!
3. Faster Learning
Playing backwards is one of my favorite practice techniques. And it is a great way to learn a new piece of music. This doesn't mean literally playing the music backwards, but starting near the end, playing to the end, then going back a bit further and playing to the end, and so on. Learning this way insures multiple starting points, and makes the end sound great. And as a bonus, learning in small sections helps the brain to absorb the music faster!
The moral here is: never exclusively play the piece all the way through or start only from the beginning!
4. More Fun!
Repetition can be dull, and dangerously mindless. Practicing a piece from the beginning over and over again can get tiring and boring. Eventually the brain will disengage and the fingers will go on autopilot. And mindless practice is dangerous. It leads to lack of musicality, relying exclusively on muscle memory, and mistakes. But even worse, it’s no fun! Make practice interesting by playing backwards! Starting in different places will keep your brain engaged and keep you interested in what you are doing! And as a bonus, you will learn your music better and faster. So get to playing backwards and have fun!
Stay tuned for another post on practicing tips!