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11 October 2017

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Seven Bad Practice Habits that will Hinder your Progress.

Are you using your practice time effectively? Half an hour of effective practice is worth many more hours of bad practice and bad habits are the biggest enemy to effective practice. Let's consider some of the ones I frequently come across in my teaching experience and if you identify with any of these, or want to mention anything I haven't covered, please leave a comment below. 

Half an hour of effective practice is worth many more hours of bad practice and bad habits are the biggest enemy to effective practice.

Bad Habits: A Musician’s Worst Enemy

1. Playing too fast

If you're making mistakes your playing too fast. Whatever speed you choose, you should be able to keep the pulse going. Remember, a hesitation in music is a mistake. Many beginner students concentrate on pitch and forget about a fluent rhythm. Once you can achieve fluency at a slow speed, then speed up with a metronome.

2. Correcting mistakes

Of course we all make mistakes learning new pieces, but what I am referring to is just correcting the note that went wrong. Very often the mistake happened because of what was immediately before, maybe an awkward jump, bad fingering or breathing for wind instruments. Always go back a few bars and run into the moment where the mistake happened. Think of it like doing the long jump in athletics. If you messed up a long jump you would attempt it again with the run up too.

3. Practicing from Memory

OK, to a certain extent, you will start to learn a piece from memory as you practice for a period of time and developing muscle memory is a good thing. However, the danger starts when you stop noticing what is on the page so that you will increase your chances of forgetting what’s really written in the music, not just the notes but dynamics, rests, tempi markings, and everything else. Even if you know a piece from memory, it is a good idea to have the music in front of you and follow it  as you are playing.

4. Not listening to yourself

This is connected to the last habit. When we play too much from memory, we can stop listening to what we are playing and develop a kind of selective deafness. Why not make a recording of your playing and then listen to it whilst following along with the music. You might be surprised what you hear.

5. Always going from the beginning

The beginning of a piece, is what you probably started learning first and so you know the best. It has had the most practice and so logically needs the least. It would be a better idea to start your practice from the newest section of a piece, which needs the most work. Then, when you play the whole piece from the beginning at the end of your practice  as a kind of performance, it will redress the balance where the part that needs the most practice, gets the most practice. Also, there are students who, if they make a mistake, cannot restart from the middle of a piece, but always need to go back to the beginning, because this is the only way they ever practice and their muscle memory is not programmed to start from anywhere else. Imagine if this happened in an exam or performance. How many restarts would the examiner's patience extend to?

6. Tension

Does your back ever ache after sitting at the piano for a period of time? Do you ever notice your shoulders going up when trying a difficult passage. Do you lean into the music, as if being closer will make a technical passage somehow easier. Always try to focus on being relaxed and if you notice any of these signs of tension, reduce the speed so that you can play without these bad habits, before speeding up again.

7. The "sniff" and other involuntary body reflexes

I have some students who have developed various involuntary body responses whilst playing, such as a tongue sticking out when playing a technically difficult passage. Whilst these may or may not affect your playing, (it could be yet another sign of tension) they might distract from a musical performance. At the bottom of this post is an extract from one of my recent lessons where the student,  adds a sniff at various places in the music to help keep the timing, but before you leave, please let me know in the comments below, if you identify with any of these habits, or if there are any others that are worth a mention. 

So here is an excerpt from the ABRSM Grade 6 Piano piece  "Cruella de Vil" rearranged for "Piano and Sniff"

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