Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Quick Practice Tip: Holes and Towers

I have a delightful eleven-year old boy in the studio who is on the cusp of book 6. We have spent much of this year in lively discussions about practicing and what constitutes good practice habits. I would like to share one of our recent conversations about this topic.

Eleven-year old boys are enamored with speed and movement. They generally have lots of energy and enjoy playing things as fast as they can. I understand the seductive lure of playing fast, but I also understand the pitfall of allowing the fun of physical sensation to encourage the ears to take a siesta from doing their job. When a student plays a passage too fast, the ears cannot hear it accurately. The trick is getting the student to learn how to play the passage quickly enough to garner speed but also slow enough to check for intonation and accuracy. I covered the topic of practicing methods to build up speed in previous posts:

I had discussed these various methods with my student, but in this instance, my student was caught up in the fun and excitement of playing a very cool piece (Bach's Violin Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, violin 1 in book 5) and had little enthusiasm for accuracy for the moment.

I isolated a passage whose perfection eluded my student: tricky finger pattern, difficult bow articulation and slurring, and advanced aural interval for intonation. I asked my student to play the passage a little slower and really listen to what he played. Our conversation went like this:

What did you hear?

My student looked at me with a puzzled expression.

Were you playing the correct notes?

I could tell that he was not sure about the answer to that question.

Try playing it again much slower and really listening to whether the notes are correct and in tune.

It took a few more tries before my student could play the passage slow enough for his ears to start working accurately and identify problem areas.

Let's suppose that I asked you to build up a big pile of dirt for me. And, you eagerly did that, except that you dug a hole instead.

"O . . . K . . .," my student said, clearly puzzled about where I was headed.

When I checked up on the work you did, I found that you dug a huge hole instead of building up a pile of dirt. I would tell you: "Jamey! I asked you to build a pile of dirt! I wanted to build a tower and needed a pile of dirt. You dug a hole instead!" What would you have to do now to fulfill my request?

"I would have to fill up the hole and then build a pile of dirt on top of where I had the hole at first."

Exactly! So how much work did you do in order to finally build up the pile of dirt I initially asked you to make?

"I would have to do two sets of work. I would have to fill up the hole I dug and then have to pile more dirt on top of that to build a pile -- No! Wait! -- I would have done 3 sets of work! Because, I would have dug the hole in the first place, then I would have had to fill it up, and then I would have had to build it up. I did three times more work than I should have done."

So, how much work would you have done if you had just built up the dirt pile in the first place?

"I would have done the work once."

When we practice, we also have to decide whether we want to practice to dig a hole or build a tower, right?


So what do you want to do in this piece when you practice? Dig a hole or build a tower?

"I want to build a Castle, not a Moat!"

Lesson learned! Thanks, Jamey! Happy Valentine's Day back at you!

No comments:

Post a Comment