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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quick Practice Tip: Add-a-Pearl

I hereby declare today as "Add-A-Pearl Day."

When I was three years old, my maternal grandmother presented me with an "add a pearl" necklace. I do not recall this event, but my mother assured me the gift giving took place. I did indeed have a tiny gold necklace with three small pearls on it. The tradition was that I was to be given one pearl every birthday so that by the time I turned twenty-one, the traditional age of majority, I would have "grown" a full size set of pearls on my necklace. Sounded like a terrific idea, although I never got any pearls for my birthdays. I guess someone fell down on the job or on hard times.

I tried to find out more history about this pearl necklace tradition and was unsuccessful. The tradition has been around at least long enough to attract the attention of my grandmother, who was born in the early part of the 1900's. Despite its lack of clear history, the add a pearl necklace can serve as a useful tool for practice. Here's how it works: just as we build the completed product, the full necklace of pearls, so we will build our finished music product by adding "pearls."

First, identify one of those unpleasant passages that you have been putting off. You know that you need to give the passage some specialized attention, but you have procrastinated or pretended to forget to do the practice.

Take a good look at it and start out with just the first few notes. If it is a group of sixteenth notes, then pick two to four sixteenth notes to begin. Look well at the note grouping and then play them as quickly as you can. Repeat. Repeat this at least four times (at least! Remember, three is never enough and five kills your motivation). If you make a mistake, then you are not thinking hard enough about the notes before you begin playing them.

Next, play the passage again but add one additional note. Do this at least four times. Then add another note and repeat that four times.

Continue on in this manner until you have finished working through the passage. As you have probably noticed by now, the first part of the passage sounds pretty good and solid, because you have been playing that part of the passage over and over. The last part, however, seems to be lagging behind a little bit.

There are several ways to address this deficiency. You could just work through a section at a time, and gradually drop the initial grouping of notes little by little as you progress. Or, you could do another Add-A-Pearl Day but do it in reverse, that is, start with the last group of notes and add one note at a time backwards.

I find that I seldom have to repeat an Add-A-Pearl Day for the same passage. Once through with this technique usually cures an ailing passage. I hope you enjoy this little practice gem!

Happy Add-A-Pearl Day!

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