The hardest thing about practice is...not playing on! - Top Music Co
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The hardest thing about practice is…not playing on!

By Tim Topham | Deliberate Practice

Aug 06 2011

practice playing

One of the hardest things about effective, deliberate practice is knowing when to stop!

Have you ever experienced this situation: You decide to work on a small phrase of your music, perhaps just a bar or hand position change to a tricky chord, only to find a few seconds later, you’ve already gone on and played the next few lines of music without even really thinking about it? It’s probably the biggest mistake in practice.

We all want to sound good when we play, and the best way to do that is to play what we already know, but playing what you already know is a waste of time when you’re trying to fix a specific problem!

Remember: effective practice involves very, very focussed work on small sections – just the trouble spots in your music.

In order for practice to be effective, you must stick to these small sections of your music until they are right, no matter how “nice” the rest of the piece might sound to play.

It’s just the same for pro athletes: swimmers might be working on their streamlines after diving in. They just get on the blocks, dive in and stop and repeat. Golfers might just practice their backswing, tennis players their follow through. What they don’t do is run a whole race or play a whole match during their practice.

Similarly, musicians must stay focussed on solving the specific problem, not playing the piece through. That comes later!

So as you practice this week, remember that good practice doesn’t often involve play-throughs of your pieces. STOP after the tricky bits, slow down, fix and repeat them, no matter how much you might want to play on! Your prize for fixing the problem can be to play through it once before you have a break.

Good luck 🙂

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About the Author

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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