Nitty gritty practice is actually a term I stole from Sharon Sparrow in her fabulous book, 6 Weeks to Finals. It's a very thorough, very specific guide to preparing for orchestral auditions, but I think it's incredibly inspiring for anyone who wants to get more details in their performance preparation. In this final post about practicing, I'm getting specific about different ways to target what you need to do and how to break things down and build them back up, stronger than ever. Check out my suggested reading guide at the end if you're looking for some additional inspiration, as well. Good luck to you all, whatever your end goals are this semester (and every semester!).
Step 3: Try Something Creative
Ideas to avoid hitting a wall in your technical practice:
- · “Chunking”: studies show the brain digests smaller bits of information better. Try playing fewer notes repeatedly, then gradually adding from the back or front.
- · “Problem Note Sandwich”: do a diagnostic run through a passage and find which notes causes the first fumble. Isolate that note and one or two (max) on either side and begin reps. When this passage is learned, add another note on each end, then another…making sure you work past a barline or beamed group to work passage into context.
· 1 minute loops: with a metronome, practice a difficult passage repeatedly for one minute each day at your fastest controlled speed. Take 1 beat between reps to think about what you want to fix from the last rep; work towards performance tempo as quickly as possible.
· S-L-O-W: practice a difficult passage as a slow, lyrical ballad, paying attention to how you maintain a connection between notes. Imagine pouring molasses from a bottle!
· Practice rhythms: alter the rhythm to emphasize different notes in a run. If it’s straight 16ths, try dotting the rhythm in both directions; you can also change from duple (8ths or 16ths) to triple (triplets)
· Move the metronome: place the metronome on all the other parts of the beat, and apply to loops above
· Memorize difficult passages
Preparing to perform
· Schedule a weekly recording session to check in on various moments (those that you feel are getting close to ready as well as those that have you stumped). Listen back immediately and take notes in your practice notebook on things that worked and areas of improvement.
· Take video (preferred) or audio of a run-through of your piece. Watch/listen immediately and take notes as described above.
· Perform for friends and colleagues whose opinions you value (and therefore make you nervous)
· Schedule risk-free performances of your pieces to workshop them—nursing homes, churches, coffee shops, or competitions if applicable!
Colvin, Geoff. Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.
Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006.
Daniel Coyle. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown. New York: Random House, 2009.
Greene, Don. Fight Your Fear and Win: Seven Skills For Performing Your Best Under Pressure--At Work, In Sports, On Stage. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.
Leonard, George. Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment. New York: Plume Books, 1991.
Loehr, James. The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental, Emotional, and Physical Conditioning from one of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists. New York: Plume Books, 1994.