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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quick Practice Tip: Bits & Pieces Day!

I am officially declaring today to be "Bits and Pieces" day. I hereby give everyone permission to practice with this technique. Here's how it works.

Pick ten things that need practice attention. These things might be some tricky measures in a repertoire piece you are learning or perhaps an entire phrase in a song. Parents, one of these things might be that one line in a Suzuki song that always seems to lag behind the others. You know the line I mean. It is the line where your child seems to make a mistake every time or forgets one or two notes and needs reminding. For example, the third part of O Come Little Children or Long, Long Ago, or the middle part of Aunt Rhody or May Song. It is the part that your child learned last or that has been repeated the least number of times overall.

Got your list of ten places? Now work those places. Really perfect them. Do practice perfect repetitions. Do factorial repetitions (see my previous post about factorial repetitions).

One absolute rule about bits & pieces day is that you are not permitted to play any piece from beginning to end. You are only allowed to play bits & pieces.

So what is the purpose behind a bits & pieces day? I recall one Suzuki teacher explaining to a parent how best to practice. The teacher advised that playing through an entire song should be reserved for the rare occasion; this type of playing should be reserved like "dessert." This is the end stage. Just playing through a song beginning to end repeatedly does not help a student to learn how to practice well or to perform "in the moment." Instead, I find that seemingly endless repetition practice of playing a piece beginning to end helps a student to learn how NOT to focus. Unless the student is given a specific assignment to pay attention to or focus on during the performing of the piece, such as finding vibrato notes or adding certain dynamics, the student learns how to play the piece so well that they go into "autopilot mode." This is when the student plays as well as they ride their bike. They are playing but they are not paying attention to what they are doing. They have tuned out. This is the time when bad habits slip in. The bowing gets messy, the fingers get lazy, and things start to sound a little fuzzy around the edges.

A bits & pieces day on occasion reminds us of the purpose of practicing, which is to find and isolate problems and to find solutions that correct the problems. Playing a piece from beginning to end is not practicing. Finding bits & pieces to strengthen or correct is practicing at its finest.

Performing a place has its place in a practice routine, but this should not be a daily technique. Instead, give bits & pieces a try. Use this technique more often than any other.

Happy Practicing!


  1. Hello Paula, so maybe I could start by telling my 6 year old daughter at the beginning of her practices is "bits and pieces practice" and knowing her she will say "what is that" and I will explain to her we are going to do small parts only. So that she knows when I say "bits and pieces" what to expect of a session.

    I so agree with your "autopilot mode" issue...we tend to do that and your post really helps me see more clearly why she drifts and loses focus and loses accuracy. Wonderful. I think we need to hear this more. Definitely am going to remember this one and will try tonight right away.

    Plus the idea of doing a full piece at the end as dessert....our instructor has highlighted this point too. Your post really shows why the full piece at the end makes sense as a reward or achievement.

    Thanks for this great post!

    Paul and Emily from Guelph Suzuki (Emily, 6yr old, violin)

    1. So, how did it go last week? I find that changing things up here and there really keeps the kids on their toes and helps them to stay fascinated and connected. I mean, what will mom and dad do today? That sort of thing,.