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On Practicing - Part III, "Negative Factors in Your Practice"

Welcome back! If you haven't heard already, I'm so happy to tell you that my wife and I had our third daughter on January 19th! We're just overwhelmed with love for this precious little girl. You can see a picture of me and Izzy a little farther down!

In the third installment of this series on Ricardo Iznaola’s “On Practicing,” I’ll talk about what Iznaola describes as negative factors in of practicing. Some of these things are logical, some are a bit harder to think of naturally, all of them are things we ALL need to be reminded of every once in a while. So, let’s just jump right in!

1. Difficulty Level. One of the easiest ways to set yourself up for failure is by playing rep that is too difficult for your level. A piece can be too advanced technically, musically, or both, so when choosing rep (especially if you don’t have a teacher) be honest with yourself about your level and the level of the music. This does NOT mean you have to play rep that is below your level. You want to choose a combination of pieces that are slightly below, right at, and slightly above your level. Remember from the first post of this series, ease and comfort should be of upmost priority. Having music that is too far above your level will make itself immediately apparent by being very uncomfortable for you.

2. Amount of Material. Iznaola describes this as both the number of pieces you play and how you study each piece. Let’s dive a little deeper. If you refer back to earlier posts, I reference breaking a passage apart and isolating. If you’re isolating too many passages, or passages that are too long, or have too many little details to focus on you WILL overwhelm your mind. Ease and comfort in playing should also apply to your mental status, not just physical.

3. Lack of Time. This is exactly what it sounds like, we often rush our practice in order to fit as many achievements into that time as possible. This is completely antithetical to efficient practice. One thing I wish I had learned earlier is not to be afraid of spending a lot of time on a little bit of music. Likewise, don’t be afraid of spending a little bit of time on an even smaller amount of music. Only have 5 minutes? Well, play a scale or two and focus on even tone or isolate the chord change in that Villalobos that’s been giving you gray hair for the last three weeks.

4. Inertia of the Rhythmic Flow. This is the tendency to play through a piece from beginning to end a few times and then call it a day. That isn’t practicing. That’s performing. During the learning stage, this is the most inefficient form of learning possible. Plain. And. Simple. Before you start your practicing for the day think about the work you’ve put into the music so far. Then write out a few practical goals that you can achieve that day. Make it your priority to achieve those goals that day. Often times you’ll be rewarded by achieving other things that weren’t written down. For instance, just two days ago I made it my priority to write in all the fingerings for two Villalobos preludes. In about an hour not only had I achieved that goal, I had memorized both of them.

5. Tempo. This one gets me all the time. Just ask any of my teachers. This is the tendency to practice near or at tempo. This doesn’t mean you can’t test certain things at tempo, in fact you should, but rather you should first build your foundational mechanics and choreography and then test at or near tempo. Iznaola gives an interesting schedule of applying tempo to the learning process. I’ll describe that in a later post. But I want to make one thing clear, not everything you do has to be or even should be slow practice. That is one stage of practice tempo but should be followed by faster tempi during later stages of development

These are fantastic reminders about how to make our practice more efficient, all of my students will know how important that is to me. Here’s a tip that’s not in the book, these are all things that you can set practical and achievable goals for. My best practicing was when I set a 3-hour daily limit. I set tempo goals every day (i.e. This passage will be played at half tempo every iteration to work on comfort of my left hand etc…). I set long term goals of learning pieces at specific difficulty levels to check off some sort of technical or programmatic desire. My daily goals ALWAYS involve the repetition of small, isolated passages etc... This lesson from Iznaola is already masterful, but when you combine it with practical goals you’ll see tremendous improvement!

If you find this helpful, I would HIGHLY encourage you to read the book yourself. In my opinion it's a book that should be on every musician's shelf. For your convenience, a link to the boo on amazon is below. As always, if you found this post helpful or inspiring hit that like button, leave a comment, and share the link with your friends, family, and colleagues!

- JB



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