Robert Estrin - piano expert

What Is Anti-Practicing and Are You Doing it?

Learn about the "traps" of music practice

In this video, Robert introduces the concept of "anti-practicing." What is it?

Released on March 17, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to I'm Robert Estrin and today's subject is so important: What is anti-practicing and are you doing it? You may be. I'm going to tell you three telltale signs today if you are anti-practicing. What do I mean by "anti-practicing"? What I'm talking about are routines in your daily work that are actually destructive, that actually build negative habits in your playing.

Now, there are many ways that you can be productive in your practice and an equal number of ways that you can be unproductive. One of the most telling signs that you may be doing yourself, damaging your work, is playing too fast. Playing too fast has so many negative repercussions in your playing. Now, one of them is changing your tempo. If you have a piece and you have it going pretty well and it's fun to play it because it's an exciting piece that you love, but there are just a few problem spots, and so you make accommodations. You slow down for those spots, just so you can enjoy playing through the music. Now, why is this such a bad thing to do? Well, sometimes occasionally, you might want to try it up to tempo to see how far you get and to see where the problem parts are so you can zero in and solve them, but if you're in the habit of doing this on a regular basis, what happens is you get so used to playing it that way, making those accommodations, that it's all but possible to stop.

Now, what are some techniques you can utilize in order to eradicate these changes of tempo and playing too fast? Well, obviously, the metronome is an incredibly valuable tool. Find a speed that's the lowest common denominator that you can play everything at that tempo and that will serve you really well. Now, there are other techniques you can use as well, because you might not want to play all of it slowly all the time, so instead, play up until you can't keep up with the metronome and zero in on those sections.

Now, you could simply do metronome speeds, find the speed at which you can play the trouble passage, and do one or two notches on a metronome at a time until you get it up to speed, or you can use other practice techniques, whatever solves the problems. Maybe it's playing hand separately, maybe it's stopping on a strategic note, a note that you always miss, so you land on it a bunch of times so you feel secure with a very part that was giving you problems before. That's one thing. Playing too fast is obviously going to be destructive if you do it on a regular basis with your music without solving the underlying problems in the sections you can play up to speed.

Another thing is, and this one is perhaps one of the most important ones, is going back just a little bit every time you make a mistake. You're playing through a piece, whatever it may be. You get the idea, every time there's a mistake, just go back and you fix it. You think you fixed it, but of course, you haven't fixed it. All you're doing is getting into the routine of making a mistake, going back slightly, and continuing, so guess what happens to your performance? The same thing, because that's what you're used to doing.

I've talked about this many times. Solving this issue is, really, takes multi-steps. You might think, oh, you solved it, but you haven't, because the next time, it's likely to happen again, or maybe not the next time, but every few times you play it, those weaknesses are still there. How do you get rid of them? First of all, when you have a little problem, a little slip-up like that, stop. The first thing you need to do is stop and get out the music and find exactly where the problem was. By the way, that's the hardest part of all. I know you probably think you're the only ones who it's hard for you to find where you are in the music. No, it's hard, even for me, and I take the time to do it each and every time because it's the only way you really reference the score to know what the problem is, the insecurity, and to clarify in your mind so it's not just a motor memory thing that you may or may not get, but intellectually, you understand the correction.

Once you can play it faithfully repeatedly, and you get it up to tempo and it's smooth and you can play it at least three times in a row perfectly, are you done? No, you're not done yet because then you have to put it into context. What I recommend, as I talked about before, is go back a little bit first, maybe two measures before the part that you already got perfect three times in a row. Go back two measures before that and get that three times in a row. Then, finally, go back to the beginning of the piece or the beginning of the section and be able to make sure you can think it through, because strangely enough, even after cementing a correction and even after being able to go back a couple of measures and get through it beautifully over and over again, you're still going to find that when you go back to the beginning of the piece, the same darn mistake will creep in again because you're not used to getting there with a correction from that point, so you have to think it through.

Once you do that two or three times from the beginning, you've got it solved till the next part, so you go to the next part and do exactly the same thing until you can faithfully go through the whole piece. You may have to work on sections of the piece. For example, if you have a sonatina or a sonata and you have a first exposition with a repeat, maybe just work on getting that whole section with the repeat solidly, and then get the other middle section solid and work on large chunks, ever-larger chunks until you've got the whole piece where you can get through it without any problems.

The last one I've talked about also, and I see students doing this and I always stop them in their tracks, which is playing your mistake. As soon as you make a mistake, go, "What did I do wrong? Where was that note? That's it. I played this." I know it's so tempting to want to see what you did wrong, but all you're doing is concentrating on the mistake and you're cementing the mistake, anti-practicing, the very definition. You don't want to think your mistake. You want to focus on the correction.

Those are the three things to concentrate on: Don't play too fast so that you can make sure you eradicate these problems. Sure, try your music up to speed, just to see where you need to focus your attention, and of course, the second thing is don't just stop and go back a little bit and think you've corrected it because you haven't. You may think you have because you went back and had got it, but the same thing is likely to happen again, and don't ever try to find your mistake. Instead, focus on the correction. That's what will be paramount in your mind and your performance will be stronger as a result.

I hope these tips are good for you. Once again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. Lots of videos to come. If you ring that bell, thumbs up, all that good stuff, so YouTube puts this video in front of more eyes, because if you love piano like I do, you want everybody to see these videos, right? Anyway, thanks for joining me. I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh Hayashi * VSM MEMBER * on March 31, 2021 @10:30 am PST
Robert, your advice corresponds with the message contained in an important book called "Talent is Overrated", which refers to a study of violin students at a conservatory, which found that the best students spent a lot of time working on the problem areas of the music they were studying, whereas the other more mediocre students didn't do this. The best students were involved in what the author called "deliberate practice" and the students who did this said it was "not fun"...but hard work. The title of the book reflects the fact that while most of the students were initially equally talented, those that improved the most were the ones who did this hard work of analyzing the problem areas and figuring out solutions, rather than just spending a lot time playing over and over the things they could handle easily and enjoy playing. The author goes on to relate this phenomenon to other endeavours, such as sports...such as football and golf, etc. What you say applies equally to other instruments, other than the piano. So many thanks for that.
Robert - host, on March 31, 2021 @12:39 pm PST
It's true that if you are practicing correctly it's hard work! The fun part is performing if the practice is done correctly.
Jill Beer * VSM MEMBER * on March 17, 2021 @11:02 am PST
Robert, I want to tell you how much I love and value your videos. I grew up playing piano. Now I am focusing on other instruments... the cello and I'm learning bagpipes. Most of the videos you present on the piano are transferrable to other instruments which is why I find them so valuable.

I have one question that maybe you can answer although I am thinking I need to historically search what you've already created.

How do you memorize music? I've never been great at it when I played conservatory piano (to Grade 8). I could play a song and not really look at the book but should you take the book away, I can't remember the song. I haven't had to memorize songs with my cello my amateur ensemble group uses music stands. If I want to join a marching pipeband I will need memorize all the music.

Do you have any tips that could help?
Robert Estrin on March 17, 2021 @11:32 am PST
Here is information about memorization for you:
Jill Beer * VSM MEMBER * on March 18, 2021 @9:01 am PST
Thank you! Your suggestions are very helpful. I enjoy watching your videos.
William Strickler * VSM MEMBER * on March 17, 2021 @9:56 am PST
This video by Robert is extremely good for me! I play violin and my fingers cannot yet move fast enough to even approach the tempo of "Allegro". But more than half the pieces we do in orchestra are Allegro or faster. Those are the pieces I spend most of my time practicing. But still I am faking it and just trying to move as fast as possible skipping over notes and making a mess of mistakes. I need to rethink this. Perhaps skip Allegro and Presto and focus on the slower pieces. Perhaps the spending most of my effort trying to adapt is counter-productive in the long run and draws me away from the slower songs that I could do a lot better if I focused on them. Dr. Suzuki's book 4 level is all allegro and presto. I technically am at that level or better, except for the excess speed demanded by teachers for that level is way beyond me. I been stuck at that level for many years playing hundreds, perhaps thousands of other pieces but not able to match the demands of Dr. Suzuki's method of speed playing. Pushing for speed also causes lots of wrist pain, especially when reaching for hard to reach notes at high speed.
Robert Estrin on March 17, 2021 @11:33 am PST
This may be helpful for you if you are experiencing pain:
Larry on March 17, 2021 @8:02 am PST
I need to hear "anti-practice" reminders over and over again. Thanks for this. It's the 2nd and 3rd tips that continue to haunt me. It's really hard to get past those. Funny how a couple of errors take over my practice time when I should be emphasizing successful performance.
Keep reminding us.Larry
Robert Estrin on March 17, 2021 @11:34 am PST
Take your time in practice to work out problems. Working slowly can be incredibly helpful for this!
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