14

A lot of times when I'm first practicing a song, I play it with the right 'feel' and it sounds good, but the more I repeatedly study it to get the technical parts right, it feels like it just becomes this monotonous exercise.

Is it a better idea to not focus on one song at a time? Like studying it for just half an hour and then doing something else for that day? How do I keep from getting bored with a piece?

  • 1
    Entire books have been written on practice. Give it 24 hours and I bet you'll have chapter one!! – user48353 Mar 30 '18 at 19:24
  • 1
    If you can, you might try what my son does (and I cannot): transpose it into a different key now and then. This seems to make it feel fresher to him. – PJTraill Apr 5 '18 at 21:18
10

There are a million and one opinions on practice. What follows is just one, but it has worked for me for a long time. These are suggestions not dogmas. You are bound to get conflicting answers!

Firstly, practice requires attention. You alone can tell how many repetitions you can manage before your mind starts to wander a little. As soon as it does, move on to something else in the same music, or another piece, or another activity entirely, and return later.

Two hours practice in a day might be better realized as, for example, eight fifteen minute chunks than as a single block. Consider that there may be an optimum daily amount you can learn, and that continuing past this point gives lesser and lesser returns. Nobody else can tell you these things about yourself, you have to discover them, by luck or determined self-awareness.

Be sure you aren't repeating the entire piece when only 10% of it gives you problems. This can save further time.

Secondly, your question mentions 'feel' and 'the technical parts' as if they exist separately. This can lead to trouble. Beware of the idea of practising something 'technically' first, then adding the 'expression' later. Every expressive end has to be achieved by technical means. I found practice without all the indicated expression to be a waste of time. For example, it feels quite different to play a passage crescendo as opposed to at a flat level. The crescendo itself needs practice to shape as you want.

Remember that we are creatures of habit. Repetition is very powerful: every time we do something, we are training ourselves to do it again. Therefore take care to minimize repetitions of things you don't want to do. Practising something motorically 100 times increases the chance that #101 will sound motoric whether you want it to or not.

  • In my experience, practising something non-motorically doesn't necessarily stop the repetitive nature of the process from making the enthusiasm to fade. Maybe I'm doing something wrong... – posilon Mar 31 '18 at 2:06
8

To get back to the mood, I suggest playing it for somebody who you think would appreciate or "get into" it.

Regarding different possibilities for practicing, it's not a bad idea... I had one band director (college level) who would consistently avoid having us play all the way through any piece the band was working on until the concert, although he would most definitely work out all the technical issues beforehand.

For a parallel example, it is reported that Kelsey Grammar wouldn't rehearse his part with the rest of the cast during the 11 years of recording "Frasier"... he wanted a human element of surprise to be part of the final performance.

For myself, I mainly loved music as a student when performing with others. But then I didn't go on to become a professional (or even a college music-performance student) either...

I hope you find this helpful!

6

If you need to perform this particular piece on a particular occasion, do the necessary practice and tolerate the boredom. If you're just building repertoire sure, mix-'n-match the pieces you work on.

Do remember, once you're WORKING on a piece, never play it wrong. Play it right, but slowly enough to GET it right. Playing it 10 times with mistakes will not magically turn into playing it right.

  • How does that answer the OP's question? If you are preparing a particular piece for a performance then you can do the necessary (slow) practice and tolerate the boredom but, after the practice period is complete and you are ready to perform it having overcome the technical difficulties, how do you manage to regain your enthusiasm for it (which I personally consider a necessary ingredient for a meaningful interpretation)? – posilon Mar 31 '18 at 1:48
  • 3
    Oh, for goodness' sake! If you NEED to perform it, do what it takes. If you don't, and it's boring you, play something else. Or go fishing. – Laurence Payne Mar 31 '18 at 1:55
2

How do you know it doesn't sound good after you've practiced it? Unless you get the opinion of an objective 3rd party, you shouldn't judge it unless you know you made a blatant and damaging mistake. Even blatant mistakes are not necessarily very damaging, depending on the context - if you are practicing a long, complex coda and miss one note by half a step, chances are it won't be noticed by 99.9% of listeners.

It happens very often that ofter practicing something, you lose your initial enthusiasm for a piece and so it seems like a monotonous exercise when you practice it, but to an outsider it will sound better as the result of your practice and work.

It's very difficult to judge your own playing objectively - as the musician you focus on different aspects than the listener. Before you pass judgment on yourself, get someone else to listen to you.

Another good thing to do is record yourself and wait a day (to distance yourself from your personal, momentary experiences at the time you played it) and then listen to what you've recorded, as if you're listening to someone else. Often you will discover that it sounds much better than you thought it did when you recorded it.

0

Focus on the piece's individual parts one at a time. Just listen to the bass line. Is it phrased nicely and is consistent in its character and speed, like that of a bass player (cue: insert bass player jokes here)? Focus on the chords: do they fall in a nice manner and make for a good sound texture without emphasizing particular chord notes? Does the melody line stand out and has its own recognizable unique phrasing and possibly timing?

Piano is a polyphonic instrument allowing for independent phrasing of even simultaneous notes. That's what makes it so practice intensive. That's also what makes good piano players worth kcd.com/listening to.

If your current level requires inordinate amounts of practice for getting just the notes right, you might be working beyond the level where practice is effective in creating both progress and incentive. There may be some point in creating a "technical exercise" regimen you mindlessly plough through for that every one or two days for putting down basics, just to have the amount of monotonous exercise required for technical prowess covered without tapping into your attention span for working on the interesting aspects of pieces you want to stay fresh with.

0

You can try to shift the mood to a different feel. If it's a happy song, try to play it as a Nocturne by Chopin, or transcribe it into a jazz song... The possibilities are endless.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.