Robert Estrin - piano expert

The RIGHT Way to Practice Music

Learn why thorough practice is more effective than quick practice.

In this video, Robert talks about practicing music and gives you some useful tips to get started.

Released on June 15, 2016

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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

Hi, and welcome to virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com. I'm Robert Estrin, and today's subject is "Why thorough practice is more effective than quick practice."

Now you might think that if you can practice something quickly, boom. Wouldn't be that be the best way to be efficient in your practice? Well, I'm going to explain to you why that isn't always the case. Now first, truth be known, I'm all one for shortcuts. I've talked about it in the past, the band-aid approach to practicing which can save vast amounts of time, and spot practicing really focusing in and zeroing in on the trouble spots can really help you.

But what is this about thorough practice that I'm talking about, doesn't mean, for example, on the stake that I once heard a student tell me that their teacher told them to do, which was to play an entire extended movement with a metronome, and then go back raising the metronome one notch at a time for the entire movement of a piece. This is not a very efficient way of practicing. It would take forever to do that. So when I talk about thorough practice, here is the key.

Sometimes you'll sit down at a piece and the whole things kind of shavvy and you're like, "Oh, my gosh. Where do I do begin?" So you just try to plow through, but that's a mistake. Instead, start in the first trouble spot that you have and really stay with it until you absolutely have it, even if it's a very small section. Now this has many benefits to you. First of all, it's all about refinement. Once you refine it, you've got that. You could always get it back to that level later even if time is elapsed.

More important though is that the techniques you learn in that section will invariably relate to other sections of the piece. There's rarely any piece of music you play that has no repetitions of ideas, of techniques, of harmonies, of all the rest of it. So if you're extremely thorough and you get something absolutely perfected in one section, you might only have a handful of really unique techniques in that one piece that gives you any problems.

So once you go through and refine to the nth degree, being really thorough, you're going to find that you're practicing will be incredibly productive from that point forward. Instead of kind of halfway going on everything, thinking that maybe next time you practice, everything will be a little better, not so much. Instead, take the time on that first problem section and really delve in to it and solve it. And you're going to find that the next problem section might be pretty far along the score. Do the same thing with that one and before you know it, you're going to have the whole piece because a section you thought was unique is not so unique after all. You're going to find that you'll revisit those same issues that you already solved, and you'll be in great shape.

So that's the tip for today. Be thorough in your practice and you'll actually be more efficient that trying to quickly go through everything. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert, at livingpianos.com as well as virtualsheetmusic.com. Look forward to seeing you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tom Moylan * VSM MEMBER * on March 13, 2022 @6:24 am PST
Beautiful piece of music. Thanks for your suggestions on how to play it well.
reply
Robert - host, on March 13, 2022 @10:11 am PST
A great deal comes down to the 80/20 rule. You should spend 80 percent of your time on 20 percent of the music. Sometimes it can even be 90/10!
Brenda Luci * VSM MEMBER * on March 9, 2022 @8:35 am PST
Hi again, Another thought to add to this wonderful counsel: Something that my long-time teacher taught me about difficult 16th-note runs was this: Take the one or two measures of the run... instead of playing it through as written, play it as 2 8th notes and 2 16th notes (dah dah dit dit) 10 times through. Then switch. 2 16th notes and 2 8th notes (dit dit dah dah) 10 times through - and at the end, end with the first note of the next measure. Then 10 times as written, first with a slower metronome then speed up little by little. If the passage is still causing trouble as written, go through the mind-bending alteration again, 10 times each. Then as written again. This has helped enormously! The brain says, "What???!!" but then understands.

In the book "The Art of Practicing, A Guide for Making Music From the Heart", the author mentioned the experience of many professionals. One that I took away was when practicing with the metronome, discipline yourself to ONLY practice as fast as you can without making one mistake. If mistakes are happening, slow down. Otherwise you're learning mistakes. Drill the passage perfectly several times, then bump up the speed by 2-5 clicks and try again. If mistakes happen then go back down. They said that this is the absolute fastest way to learn, because you're not learning mistakes!

Another very helpful tip is from a professional pianist who learned from her professor at a Saskatchewan university. He taught that once you've played through a new piece a couple of times, go to the end. Play only the last phrase many times. Then keep adding prior sections, always playing through to the end. This way, as you perform a piece you're always moving towards the most familiar section of your piece! She said this has worked so well for her that she teaches this to her students. When we play ensemble music with her, this is the approach that we use and in performance we always feel very comfortable about approaching the climax of the piece.
reply
Robert - host, on March 10, 2022 @7:54 am PST
These are all useful techniques. The secret of productive practice is finding creative solutions for problems. Sometimes one type of practicing will provide you with great progress when others fall short. Knowing when to try a new approach and when to stay with how you are working is one of the great challenges of practicing effectively.
Douglas Baker Adelaide South Australia on October 6, 2018 @9:31 pm PST
This was one of the most helpful lessons, Thank you.
reply
Robert Estrin - host, on October 7, 2018 @12:21 pm PST
So glad you appreciate this. I hope you get benefit from it in your practice!
Tony Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on November 7, 2016 @12:41 am PST
I reviewed this today - I did not appreciate it properly when I first watched it. More sound common sense on general topics. Give us more. These topics are my favourites.
Hank on June 26, 2016 @3:17 am PST
Does this mean that you should look at the fundementals of piano music before you delve into the pieces themselves ? Or do you just play pieces and maybe learn the fundementals that way?
Hank on June 26, 2016 @3:17 am PST
Does this mean that you should look at the fundementals of piano music before you delve into the pieces themselves ? Or do you just play pieces and maybe learn the fundementals that way?
Hank on June 26, 2016 @3:17 am PST
Does this mean that you should look at the fundementals of piano music before you delve into the pieces themselves ? Or do you just play pieces and maybe learn the fundementals that way?
reply
Robert - host, on June 26, 2016 @12:31 pm PST
It's always a good idea to look through a score before delving into it. First, check the time signature, key signature and tempo indication at the beginning. Then look further in the music for changes of tempo, key signature and time signature as well as any repeat signs or D.C.'s or D.S.'s or codas.

You can take it to another level by looking at increases or decreases of speed of notes or texture so you're ready for them when they occur.
Robert - host, on June 26, 2016 @12:32 pm PST
It's always a good idea to look through a score before delving into it. First, check the time signature, key signature and tempo indication at the beginning. Then look further in the music for changes of tempo, key signature and time signature as well as any repeat signs or D.C.'s or D.S.'s or codas.

You can take it to another level by looking at increases or decreases of speed of notes or texture so you're ready for them when they occur.
Robert - host, on June 26, 2016 @12:32 pm PST
It's always a good idea to look through a score before delving into it. First, check the time signature, key signature and tempo indication at the beginning. Then look further in the music for changes of tempo, key signature and time signature as well as any repeat signs or D.C.'s or D.S.'s or codas.

You can take it to another level by looking at increases or decreases of speed of notes or texture so you're ready for them when they occur.
Robert - host, on June 26, 2016 @12:32 pm PST
It's always a good idea to look through a score before delving into it. First, check the time signature, key signature and tempo indication at the beginning. Then look further in the music for changes of tempo, key signature and time signature as well as any repeat signs or D.C.'s or D.S.'s or codas.

You can take it to another level by looking at increases or decreases of speed of notes or texture so you're ready for them when they occur.
Robert - host, on June 26, 2016 @12:32 pm PST
It's always a good idea to look through a score before delving into it. First, check the time signature, key signature and tempo indication at the beginning. Then look further in the music for changes of tempo, key signature and time signature as well as any repeat signs or D.C.'s or D.S.'s or codas.

You can take it to another level by looking at increases or decreases of speed of notes or texture so you're ready for them when they occur.
Robert - host, on June 26, 2016 @12:32 pm PST
It's always a good idea to look through a score before delving into it. First, check the time signature, key signature and tempo indication at the beginning. Then look further in the music for changes of tempo, key signature and time signature as well as any repeat signs or D.C.'s or D.S.'s or codas.

You can take it to another level by looking at increases or decreases of speed of notes or texture so you're ready for them when they occur.
Robert - host, on June 26, 2016 @12:32 pm PST
It's always a good idea to look through a score before delving into it. First, check the time signature, key signature and tempo indication at the beginning. Then look further in the music for changes of tempo, key signature and time signature as well as any repeat signs or D.C.'s or D.S.'s or codas.

You can take it to another level by looking at increases or decreases of speed of notes or texture so you're ready for them when they occur.
Hank on June 26, 2016 @3:17 am PST
Does this mean that you should look at the fundementals of piano music before you delve into the pieces themselves ? Or do you just play pieces and maybe learn the fundementals that way?
Hank on June 26, 2016 @3:17 am PST
Does this mean that you should look at the fundementals of piano music before you delve into the pieces themselves ? Or do you just play pieces and maybe learn the fundementals that way?
reply
Robert Estrin - host, on December 9, 2016 @12:25 pm PST
There are different ways of approaching practicing depending upon the type of music you are playing. In any situation, looking through the score first to see what the piece is about in regards to key signatures, time signatures, tempos, repeats and such is always valuable.

If it is a piece to be memorized, sight-reading through 2 or 3 times the first day can be helpful to see what the piece is about. Then it is time to begin to practice which is described here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeDEI0dGW_w

For chamber music and other situations where you are not memorizing the music, the band-aid approach can be beneficial:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_BUg4XyzgM

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