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When practicing a piece for a solo instrument there always is this stage when all elements (notes, dynamics, musicality,...) are there but it's still difficult to perform it completely without any mistake. At this stage I find it difficult to keep things interesting during practice and not being frustrated I'm not there yet, altough I have the feeling of almost being there. A lot of times I give up on the piece and move on to the next. I'd like to avoid that.

How do you keep things interesting during those last stages?

  • What instrument? Solo or for ensemble playing? Makes a difference! – Tim Oct 22 '16 at 17:18
  • In my case solo piano. I thought it would-be be interesting to keep it general. But yes solo or ensemble makes a difference. – Tim H Oct 22 '16 at 17:24
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Practice at a really large speed range. Make all renditions compelling. If you feel that it's not really feasible at some speed, particularly low speed, "all the musicality" is not there. Admittedly, this scales worse with piano as a percussive instrument than with continuous-tone instruments (bowed strings, wind instruments and so on). If you work with an electronic keyboard, select some continuous patches like organ, harmonium, accordion or similar and practice a bit with that. They are lousy for practising just the right strength of attack but make sloppy release timing a lot more conspicuous than a piano. Don't overdo it in order not to mess with the main thrust of your technique but it can give some important pointers for subtle elements of expressivity that are low-hanging fruit. They can also give some incentive for improving your fingerings where you excessively rely on "finger-hopping" (an execution limiting the deliberation you can exercise with your phrasing).

Record yourself. That's as important a tool for the musician as making a source code printout is for a programmer: most of the time you don't even need to examine the result to figure out where the problem is. The mere presence of a mechanical observer is making all the difference.

And of course, listen to yourself. Swing your rendition (make first part of a beat longer than the second part). Reverse swing it. Play it with various articulations from staccato to legato. Your ultimate rendition is anchored flexibly in the middle of a large range of interpretations, with you controlling where to go every moment.

If you are bored, you are not feeling that large range and keeping to a wonderful path amidst it but are having tunnel vision on your rendition.

Try listening out particular voices and lines and their development and articulation. Are they self-consistent? Are they cohesive on their own rather than some note glued onto others and dragged along?

Once you have successfully addressed all expressive shortcomings in your sound texture and have worked out your path through the rendition, your frequency of simple playing errors will be pretty low. And more importantly, your listeners will give a shit about them because that metric just will not matter to them. It matters in recordings, yes. But when everything else fails, there are sound engineers. Of course, your errors need to be randomly distributed for that to work: you cannot afford having a certain passage have a high quota of problems: in that case you still need to work on it in particular.

  • Thank you, these are the sort of suggestions I was looking for. Oh, and welcome to Music.SE! – Tim H Oct 25 '16 at 8:47
  • @TimH I personally find that leaving a piece for a while and then coming back to it is no bad thing. Sometimes you play something enough that it becomes a little joyless, and because you're not engaged with the music you slip up more than you otherwise would. In my opinion you should always have a couple of pieces on the go rather than devoting all your practice time to one and killing your passion for it anyway. – Some_Guy Nov 28 '16 at 11:57
  • @TimH Also another tip is is if you make a mistake in a section, play that section a again and again a good few times to "unlearn" the mistake. Don't just go back to the beginning. This is better for a number of reasons. Too often people make a mistake and then go back to the beginning of the piece every time. – Some_Guy Nov 28 '16 at 11:59
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A few thoughts:

1) It's unlikely that you will every perform a pieces perfectly EVERY time. So, I wouldn't necessarily make this your goal.

Regarding mistakes:

2) If you make mistakes in the same spots every time this is an indication that there is something that needs work. Keep a list of these spots and work on them first when you practice. Figure out what needs to change to correct the mistake. Do each spot several times correctly in a row. (Your goal would be to be able to do each spot the first time correctly when you come to your practice session.) Then run the piece and see if your problems are fixed.

3) If you make a mistake in different spots every time try and figure out why. Is it mental? Is it physical (getting tired, hand cramp, etc.)? Try and identify the reason for the mistake. Problem solving in this way can make practicing more of a "puzzle" and therefore less boring.

Hope that helps!

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You focus on the fact that if your performances are reliably excellent you will get more employment. Therefore you practice beyond 'getting it right' to the point where you 'couldn't get it wrong'.

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Not sure exactly if this is what you're looking for, but when I am practicing a new piece or a piece I have trouble with, I like to think of the piece, not as a whole, but as smaller parts of a whole song. So I practice one or two measures of the piece, and play those until I can play them with ease, then I move on to the next couple measures. Once I can play the next ones with ease, I play the two successively a few times till I can do it without trouble, and then move on, and so on and so forth. Just a suggestion that usually helps me. Hope this helps!

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