How to practise until you can't get it wrong.
Updated: Apr 16, 2022
"Don't practise until you get it right, practise until you can't get it wrong." -
I'm not sure who first said this, but I remember my piano teacher telling me this leading up to my AMUS exam! It has stuck with me throughout the years and is something I try to pass along to my students.
It has been a little while between blog posts! Soon, I will be hosing an online piano recital with a friend/colleague for our students. It has been the lead up to this that has got me thinking about practise technique and the right and wrong ways to practise! I've had this conversation with students before who, in their lessons say 'oh but when I play it at home there are no mistakes' or something similar. This may be the case, but the fact is that if you're making mistakes during a lesson, those mistakes exist and are likely to come out in an exam or performance situation!
So, what can you do to practise not so you get it right, but so you can't get it wrong? Here are some dos and don'ts about practising.
Do go through your music with a fine tooth comb. Look at every single detail and think about it consciously as you play. Which finger am I using? Is there a 'landmark' note I can look out for? (e.g. a particular note in a chord that sticks in your mind or something leading up to a tricky passage that you just have to get right in order to set yourself up for the passage ahead etc).
Don't rush your practice session and just play through your pieces once. Ever. Even if you think you could play the piece with your eyes closed, what is the value in rushing through? A 'quick' practice session should only be done on those days that you just don't have time to do a full sit down, slow, work through practice (see my blog post here about practising when you are time poor and the right way to do it).
Do take time to practise tricky passages in different places on the piano, using different rhythms, using different articulation, with your eyes closed, upside down....you get the picture. Play it in ways that make it even more difficult than what is written in your music so that when you go back to playing it the way it should be, it feels easy under your fingers. The bonus of doing this also is that you really get to know every intricate detail of that passage.
Don't play too fast. Yes, there are pieces that have fast passages and fast playing is for sure necessary. But the majority of young students think that playing fluently just means playing fast. This is certainly not the case. Imagine playing a piece that is a lullaby at top speed? What's the point? Look at the piece you are playing, find the appropriate speed for that piece and practise it at that tempo. Don't play it faster.
Do play slowly. And I mean S-L-O-W-L-Y. Take those parts of your piece that have always had a tiny bit of doubt and do some slow practise with them.
Don't play without expression. Playing a piece with zero expression is about as boring and pointless as watching paint dry.
Do use the full range of dynamics, tempos, expression and articulation that are written into the music. If there are no musical directions written in, try and come up with some on your own. Follow the shape of the melody with the dynamics, when the melody rises crescendo, when it falls decrescendo. This is simple but it makes a huge difference, even Mary Had a Little Lamb is recital ready with a little dynamic variation.
Whatever it is you are practising for, whether it is an exam, a performance or just to build your own repertoire, remember to always have fun and enjoy the music that you are making.