organized practice

Music Practicing 101: The Looping Drill

The Looping Drill is one of my favourite drills since it can be used at any stage of music mastery.

Making a Practice Schedule

Some times and links to help you organize your music practice schedule.

Tips on Project Management and Learning Music

For those of you doing a music exam or playing at the music festival, you're probably feeling the pressure from your music teacher and parents. After all, we're in exam and music festival season and the clock is ticking!

To help keep my students on track, I've helped them come up with a Project Management Timeline for the areas that need work. When I first used this backwards project timeline, it was during my co-op term at CPO. I had to plan out when I needed to write my press releases for upcoming concerts at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Working backwards from the radio, TV and print media's submission deadlines, I was able to figure out when I needed to write the press releases for the spring concerts. It works well for music too:

Backwards Timeline

D-day in this case is the week leading up to the APTA Festival. I had my students count out how many weeks they had till D-day. Then, I informed them that they needed to give themselves at least one month to let their memory settle and to polish their pieces. This is represented by the first two numbers on the LH side of the page.

From there, we calculated just how many weeks they had left to memorize "Piece X" and how many weeks they had to finish learning the piece.

Next, we looked at the RH side of the page; at the total number of lines in the piece, the number of lines learned already and finally, the number of lines left to learn. Then it was time to put the math hat on:

  • 9 lines to learn DIVIDED by 3 weeks learning time = 3 lines to learn per week
  • 18 lines to memorize DIVIDED by 7 weeks = 2.6 lines to memorize per week, give or take a bar or two, depending on phrasing

In this example, the student needs to spend some practices learning the rest of the piece and some practice time on memorizing a section.

With the formula, the music memorization deadline thus becomes the week of March 27. You can also use this formula to help figure out your practice milestones for the week.

Give it a try with your current pieces - good luck!

P.S. Now, the milestones will change, depending upon the level of difficulty of the piece and the student's work habits


Study Your Music Score

Score study, or studying the sheet music, is a useful way to practice music away from your instrument. Here are some tips on how to practice using scorestudy. Things to take note of:

  • time signature changes
  • key signature changes
  • hand position changes
  • the overall form (more on this later)
  • tricky rhythms
  • chords (especially) cadences
  • patterns
  • dynamics
  • expression markings

Mark anything that you need to pay special attention to. Depending on your learning style, you may want to colour-code these, or make up some short code.

Identify any patterns, chords, etc. that will help you learn your music better. Photo by R-M Arca.

With regards to form, beginner students can look for repeating patterns. Intermediate and advanced students can label the sections as they know them (e.g. A section, B section, Exposition, Development, Theme 1, etc.).

I find it especially helpful to tap and count tricky rhythms away from any of my music instruments. Slowly and then gradually building in speed.

If you need more tips on how to scorestudy, don't be afraid to ask your music teacher.

Music Practicing 101 - Fill in the Blanks Drill

This is a handy practice drill to use when you keep pausing in your song. It's best done with a small section and then you expand your work area. The video was taken last winter (hence, the Christmas hat). It goes through how to use the Fill in the Blanks Drill.

Happy practicing!

Music Practicing 101 - Speed Learning

If you have to get something ready to perform and you have very little preparation time, you have to manage your time very efficiently to get the job done. This is where speed learning comes in.
Speed learning techniques are useful for musicians of any level and any age. There are several approaches to speed learning a piece of music, which I outline in my speed learning piano tutorial:
Regardless of your approach, there are a few common themes:
  1. Have frequent mini-practices to get the music into your muscle memory, e.g. five 2-minute practices, or five 5-minute practices.
  2. Know your theory! It's important to know where you are in the form of the piece (e.g., A section? Recap? Second verse?). It is equally just as important to know your harmony. More on that later.
  3. Make it easier for yourself: Most people won't notice if you make a few modifications. Look for ways to simply patterns. Younger students can play solid chords instead of the fancier Alberti bass. Drop the doubled-notes. Go ahead scribble in the note-names for notes on the ledger lines. Write in the harmony (the chords).
  4. Set your goals and tasks for each mini-practice: Which trouble spots are you going to work on? Which practice drill is the best for fixing it? You must strive to see and hear a significant improvement on that spot by the end of your mini-practice.
  5. Use practice aids: Drag out that metronome from behind the piano. Prop up your iPod, tablet or smart phone by your instrument to play along to a recording of your piece. You can also record and review your progress.
By regularly doing "speed learning challenges" or "quick studies",  you will notice that you will learn your "regular" pieces more quickly.
I'll have to ask my fellow music teachers if they have any other speed learning tips to share. Stay tuned!
Happy practicing!