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When I'm practicing, I often find myself spacing out, forgetting what I had just played, or tuned back in to find that, wow, I'm already almost at the end of the piece!

This bothers me because it seems an inefficient use of time, as I'm not actively trying to improve anything. I also end up playing a much larger chunk than I meant to. I also think my problem is preventing me from making that leap from "just an okay musician" to "potentially phenomenal", I guess, if you can stomach the pretentiousness coming from that lol.

Edit: instrument is cello, and my repertoire is currently Bach Suite No 1 and the JC Bach (Casadesus) Concerto in C Minor.

I'm obviously aware of my problem, but merely trying to "be present" isn't helping much. Any speculations, comments, and suggestions are welcome!

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    I can't help but think you should be working on at least one piece where you have to concentrate just to make it through it - that spacing out would cause you to stop. – Todd Wilcox Aug 14 '18 at 15:35
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Practice isn't just playing the music.

If you're spacing out, you may not have picked off the hard parts, broken them up into 4 bar segments, and practiced one set of 4 bars at a time until completely mastered before you go to the next.

If you're just playing though, you're not practicing. You're playing. and if you're only playing, you are cementing your current errors into your brain instead of seeking them out (hardest part) and fixing them (not tough, but time consuming).

  • you're right; I haven't done that at all. I'll try it. (So if time isn't passing as quickly, it should be a good thing, right?) – kat Aug 14 '18 at 1:05
  • yeah kinda. you are working on just the difficult stuff and nailing it down by short bar segments. it's much more "argh!" than just playing through. but your playing will improve significantly. people will be able to stand listening when you reach that magical point of "it's good". instead of "yeah that was great (wow i'm glad that's over)"... Not sure why i'm at -1 rating here. This is what any piano teacher will tell you. (I'm not one) – Stephen Hazel Aug 14 '18 at 5:06
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You are absolutely correct that you must practice with complete focus in order to get better.

You need to engage with the material. One of the ways of engaging with the material is to make it fun by setting yourself challenges that can be met with a little bit of practice.

Here are some examples:

  • Record yourself playing the piece. Listen to the recording carefully and identify where you're weak. Practice those weak parts again and again until they're strong.
  • Make your fractures the strongest part of your musical bones. Whenever you make a mistake practice that part again and again continuously until it is perfect or until you lose focus. Then come back to the same part the next day and try again.
  • Play the piece as quietly as you can while still sounding the notes. Start at regular volume and then get quieter and quieter.
  • Play the piece as fast as you can without making a mistake.
  • Play the piece as slow as you can with good tone and intonation. Make your bowing capable of infinitely sustained even notes.
  • Exaggerate the phrasing to the point of parody.
  • Memorize the piece. Learn to start the piece at any point. This is an extremely good method for learning to recover from errors when performing.
  • Play the piece backwards. Play each phrase forwards but move through the phrases backwards.
  • Play the piece in different positions.
  • Transpose the piece in your head and play it in the new key.
  • Play a phrase forwards. Then backwards. Then forwards again.
  • If you're really bored, flip the music upside down and play the piece.
  • For sightreading, grab all kinds of crazy music--pop tunes, heavy metal, jazz, ...--- and play through it at random.
  • For ear training, turn on the radio or online streaming and play along
  • If you're playing Bach, start improvising! Bach was originally known as a very gifted improvisor, not as a composer. See Does improvisation in the classical idiom differ significantly from jazz and folk improvisation? Play through the pieces you're working on and then start improvising sonatas based on the themes.
  • Finally, put together a string trio and start booking gigs. Not looking like a fool in front of other musicians and the public is a great motivator.

Have fun!

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My recommendations:

First, if you have a choice (as in, your repertoire is not teacher-selected), select pieces that interest you. This will not necessarily be a cure-all, but it is definitely better than practicing music you don't enjoy.

Secondly, perhaps shorten your practice sessions. Having one big two-hour long practice is almost universally less effective than having several, spread-out, 30-45 minute practices throughout the week.

Thirdly, within each practice, have a variety of songs that you can alternate between. Spending half an hour or longer on the same song can easily bore anyone. If you're losing focus, switch to another song of a different "feel" (tempo, era, etc.) for a while.

Lastly, if you just can't focus, get up, walk around, read a book, call a friend, or do something to get away for awhile. You'll often find that when you come back to it later (even the next day sometimes), you've made more progress than you thought.

Just a few thoughts. Hope this is a help!

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