Sonatina in G

Practice Suggestions (1)

The way you practise determines how you end up playing in your performance. If you practise with lots of mistakes, you’re not going to be at all secure when you perform. What counts as a mistake? Here are the basic ones:

  • Wrong notes

  • Wrong rhythms (including hesitations and unplanned changes in tempo)

  • Wrong fingerings

When you have all the right notes with the correct rhythms and fingerings, you can add these items to the list of matters you will need to attend to:

  • Suitable tempo

  • Phrasing and a range of dynamics

  • Touch and articulation

  • Having it all feel good (comfortable feelings in your body as you play)

A great way to practise is to use The Three S’s (slowly, hands separately, in sections) aiming to get everything right from the start. Begin with separate hands before you put them together. If you learn in small sections at a slow tempo, with full concentration, you will be able to remember everything you just did, especially if you repeat the small section a few times until it feels smooth, comfortable and easy. You’ll know if you made a mistake, and you will be more easily able to find out where it happened (and why) – and take steps to correct it using the Feedback Loop.

REMEMBER: When you practise, you need to listen carefully and really concentrate on what you are doing.

Clapping and Counting Aloud

To make sure we are really feeling the rhythm, not just thinking it in our head, clapping and counting aloud is a great thing to do before we practise each phrase.

  • Clap the main beats with your hands and speak the rhythm of the treble and then the bass stave.

  • Count the beats (one, two, three, four) as well as the subdivisions (one and two and three and four and), feeling the length of long notes by keeping your hands together for the duration, and reflecting this in your voice (one, two, three-four).

  • You can use French time names (follow this link), words or even nonsense syllables if you prefer.

  • If you are able, singing the line while counting is wonderful training for the ear. Don’t worry if you can’t manage this, though.

The Feedback Loop

The Feedback Loop is a way of organizing your practice to get the best results from everything you do. Here’s what it looks like:

First of all, you decide on what you are going to practise: Here are some of the things you might put in your “A” box:

  • I’m going to practise the RH alone

  • I’m going to do some bar-by-bar practice - one bar and one note and then stop and repeat

  • I am going to practise very slowly

After you play (the “B” box), you need to stop and think for a moment and figure out how you did. So, you spend a few moments in the “C” box:

  • Did I play all the right notes? (If not, what went wrong?)

  • Did I play rhythmically and in time, without any fumbles or stumbles? (If not, where did I hesitate?)

  • Was I concentrating on the fingering?

Put the answers to these questions in a brand new “A” box so that when you repeat what you just did, you’ll be able to concentrate on making the corrections. Do you see how this works? The Feedback Loop will save you a lot of time, and you’ll make really quick progress!

Bar by Bar Plus One

When you form good habits at the piano you need to do a certain amount of repetition. I suggest no more than three repetitions in one go – fewer than three probably won’t be enough; more than three and you risk your mind wandering. When the mind wanders and you’re not listening or concentrating, your fingers get up to all sorts of tricks and mistakes start to creep in.

In Bar by Bar Plus One practice you work one bar at a time. If you do this by stopping on the first beat of the next bar, the note(s) you end on will be the same note(s) you start on when you move on to the next bar. In the case of starting from a bar where there is a tied note over the bar line from the previous bar, you may either play from the start of the tied note in the bar before (I prefer this way), or play from the first note after the tie.

Repeat each bar three times correctly in a row. That means if you get it wrong on the third repetition you have to go all the way back to the beginning, like landing on a snake in a game of Snakes and Ladders. One way to help you do this is to put three small objects (coins, buttons, cards – whatever you like) at the top of your piano keyboard. When you manage to play the bar perfectly, move one object to the bass end of the piano. If the next repetition is also perfect, then you move another object down – if you stumbled or made an error, you need to put the objects back to the top of the piano and start over again. When you have moved all of them from the top of the piano to the bottom, then you know you have played the bar three times correctly in a row.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

  1. Sometimes a phrase might end in the middle of the bar and a new phrase starts immediately after. Don’t worry! Remember, when you use BBB+1 you are working in measured sections and not complete phrases. BBB+1 is a very valuable practice tool for the learning stages and for strengthening control (and memory, where appropriate) later on.
  2. When you divide the piece into sections (and number them), a new section might not begin on the first beat of the bar. In that case, add the extra beat(s) to the next complete bar (you’ll have a long bar).
  3. When you are repeating the bar three times, take your hands off the keyboard before the next repetition.

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