by Joanne Jolee

I can feel quite self conscious when I practice – because someone might hear me – because it’s not pretty. ‘Practicing’ is different from ‘playing’, and effective practicing is stripping things down to fragments, rolling up your sleeves and doing the necessary work.

Let’s say you have music you are working to master, but there is a part where you stumble. This is where your practice session should begin.

You may not even realize you are making a mistake. Maybe your teacher points it out or you observe someone else playing the piece and recognize your error. When we do things wrong over and over that behavior becomes familiar and comfortable; now the correct playing may temporarily sound and feel wrong.

You must analyze your error, just as in any learning experience.
Perhaps you misjudged the reach from one key to the next, or perhaps you have a finger weakness and need additional exercises to help.

  • Step 1. Play the left and right hands separately and very slowly until both hands are perfect on their own.
  • Step 2. With great care not to make the mistake, play both hands together – very slowly. If you make the mistake, go back to step 1. Repeat several times.
  • Step 3. Take a break for 5 minutes to clear your head. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for however long it takes to get it absolutely perfect at a very slow tempo.
  • Step 4. After the fragment has been corrected, go back in the piece just a few bars and start to play. Concentrate. When the freshly learned area is approaching, slow down and be extremely careful not to fall back into the old habit. If you were successful then do it again…then again a bit faster…and again….until you have it up to speed.
  • Step 5. Now, go back to the beginning of the piece and play through.

It will take some time to make the metal shift and completely eliminate the mistake from your memory, so stay mindful of all the work it took to fix the error and focus a little harder when you are playing and approaching the area.

And so it is in life! Albert Einstein said, “If we’re not making mistakes we are not trying anything new.” Mistakes are part of living, but when you come to the realization you have been making a mistake, apply these steps. Soon the mistake will be repaired and you will be moving forward!