There is this one song I have to play for school but every time I try to play it, I make a mistake. I did this for 3 hours straight and I sent an email to my teacher and he gave me some advice but it didn't really help. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. Any tips?
Three hours at one session! Unless you're the sort of person who can concentrate really well for that length of time, you've wasted at least some of it. Harsh, but realistic. Most of us cannot give 100% for that length of time!
If you can organise your time into (much) smaller chunks, the progress will usually be speeded up. Perhaps even 20 minutes at a time, with a couple of hours break. And in those 20 minutes, concentrate on maybe just two of the parts that need effort. Break each down into separate bars, and play each bar perhaps 10 times. Play with eyes closed once you can 'see' those notes that way. Play ridiculously slowly. Sing the notes. And before you finish that session, play through a part that you can play well. Every few days, try to play through the whole piece, just once, without stopping when something goes wrong. There's too much time wasted in practice sessions playing a known bit up to the mistake area, then stopping! If it's good till then, it doesn't need practising!
Point 1: practice slower. You don't want to practice mistakes, you want to practice right notes.
Point 2 is related to point 1: practice is food for your skills. It doesn't work without digestion. Practice is playing patterns into your brain's limited explicitly controlled memory. It's limited in that you just cannot focus on getting more than a few things right at the same time. Sleep then turns this explicitly controlled memory into skills that work semiautonomously.
Five days of practising 30 minutes are much more effective than one day of practising 3 hours because of that. Particularly if you only practice at the speed where you get things right: that gives your sleep the best material to work with.
I suspect your teacher suggested that you play it at a slower tempo. When you say that it didn't really help, I would suggest that you practice it at an even slower tempo, and continue to slow it down until it does help.
Also, break the piece up into sections, and work on one section at a time. If you have trouble getting through a section without losing concentration, break it up into smaller sections. If you spend three hours working on just a few notes, you'll be surprised at how much you have learned the next time you go to practice. Funny thing about practicing is that your progress doesn't really show until your next practice session.
Edit: I also second Tim's advice about breaking that time period up into smaller intervals, as well. Think of it like wind sprints. Give your max concentration for a short period, take time to recover, keep doing that.
You have spent three hours training yourself to play it wrong. Play it RIGHT. This probably means playing it M-U-C-H M-O-R-E S-L-O-W-L-Y. Yes, REALLY slowly. At some point your hands have got into a position where playing the next right note is impossible. Or you've just got used to playing the wrong note. Sort this out. Then play that bit slowly, but right, 10 times over. Then another 10. Then, maybe, a bit quicker. But if you fumble, go back to slower and sort out why. Your hands have got very used to fumbling. You have to un-learn that.
It sounds like you are taking the right steps (e.g. practicing and asking your teacher), but learning to play an instrument is not easy, even with the best advice. It takes a lot of work over a long period of time.
Great job practicing for three hours today! Practice for three hours more tomorrow. You will almost definitely play the piece better than you did the day before, but you still might make mistakes. That's part of learning.
In summary, here are two pieces of advice:
- Keep practicing
- Focus on improving your performance, not on being error-free
Here are some tips I learned playing marimba in drum corps that have also served me well over my decades playing piano as well as teaching marching band:
When learning a challenging passage, practice it "backwards" -- that is, start by practicing the last bar first. If that's too much, just the last beat. Practice just that short part over and over until it becomes second nature. Use a metronome.
As you get more confident in what you are playing, start adding on new material at the beginning. If you start flubbing the stuff you were doing well before, back off on how much new material you add.
The advantage of this over learning the music "front to back" is that you are starting with your least confident parts and getting them out of the way. Going front to back, you will often play mind games with yourself worrying about new material yet to come, causing you to flub stuff you already know.
Work in very small segments -- as little as one beat if you have to. Rep them over and over with a metronome (we called it "woodshedding" the part in corps). Once you nail it, you aren't done. Beat it over and over until you are nailing it every time. Keep the metronome running and only leave enough beats between reps to reset.
If the instrument you are playing is conducive to it (mainly applies to percussion), break it down one hand at a time. Think of your hands independently. Focus on building muscle memory in one hand at a time. That means playing only one hand at a time for a while. While it's obvious on piano, it works on other percussion instruments just as well.
While I agree to an extent with other folks who are saying practice slower, you do want to make sure that you aren't going so slow as to alter any fundamental motions. (Again, this is somewhat a percussion-centric view, for example, different stick or mallet rebound behavior at different speeds, but it's important to note). Otherwise all that time you spend practicing slowly won't help you when you try to speed up. Go slow enough so that your brain can stay out ahead of your hands, but if you are still having trouble, you'll have a better time using the "small segments" technique.
In addition to all the great answers here, I would like to add the following: sleep over it.
In the sense, it is great you have practiced for 3 hours straight today. Take a break and do it again tomorrow after a good night sleep. I frequently find that I play better the day after compared to the day itself (or after a long rest).
Don't give up!
Good answers, +1 to each. One thing I would like to add is that the amount of time you practice is not as important as having a plan to make your practice more productive. Do you tend to make the same mistake or mistakes in the same places over and over? If so then you need to focus on those spots before you continue to play the piece from beginning to end. Can you improve your fingering to make them easier to play for example? Perhaps try memorizing those problem spots so you don’t have to read them. Take your time and play them several times and gradually bring them up to tempo.
If you spend 30 minutes on a piece but pay extra attention to improving the areas that are more difficult for you, you will get much more out of those 30 minutes than if you spend two hours playing it over and over making mistakes and hoping you’ll get it right the next time. You seem to have a lot of dedication, keep it up!
There can be different reasons making mistakes:
a) Difficulty of reading, minding sharps and flats
b) Interpreting the rhythm
c) Finger settings
d) Phrasing and breathing
a) Notate the note names additional to the notes on the sheet, or separate in an exercise booklet (with notes or without notes) only the difficult passages and those causing mistakes. 1. copying 2. memorizing and singing by heart and notating, controlling whether you got it. (=> mental training, with and without instrument).
b) Sing and tap the difficult passages, if you find a performance on youtube sing along and clap the rhythm tapping the beat with your feet. Analyze carefully the rhythm, transcribe it in its elements counting and rewriting into the shortest values, notate the beats.
c) Fingering problems can be treated like the note names. You can make a drawing of a difficult finger pattern, or write just the number of the involved fingers which are struggling or which are changing.
d) Don’t underestimate the phrasing as cause for failures. Sing the whole song, with solfeggio or absolute names, mind the correct phrasing. If you are short of breath train your volume by walking, jogging, swimming. Sporting activity combined with mental training (memorizing a song, feeling the rhythm, counting the beat, minding the note names and fingerings) can be more fruitful than sitting in front of the sheet music with your instrument.
That you need more than 3 hours for all of this seems to be quite obvious. But it is thrilling experience to find out how learning works, sometimes more interesting than the song. You can also write a diary notating the mistake, its cause, your progresses.
When your advanced you can also combine your exercise writing the harmony (chords and chord progression). In classical music motifs and arpeggios usually contain chord notes and scale passages.
Are there any particular places in the song that keeps tripping you up? If so, just concentrate practicing on those problematic areas first. Once you are no longer making mistakes in those parts, restart the song from the beginning and see if you could sail through those parts without any more problems. If you still have problems, rinse and repeat!
If you have played it for 3 hours with the mistake then unfortunately what you have done is to become very good at that mistake. You have "programmed" yourself to play the mistake, and I would guess that you play it the same way each time unless the piece was is such bad shape that it had mistakes all over. Every time you repeat a mistake you are basically rewarding yourself and you learn that the mistake was correct. Though it sounds like a bad joke the saying "Perfect practice makes perfect" applies.
I do not know about flute technique but getting through rough patches is the same on any instrument. First of all since you are in school I would ask if you are taking private lessons or just playing through what you are give in class?
When I am working on a new piece for guitar I always read through it very slowly (as slow as I need to play it relatively smooth) and mark parts that seem like they'd be trouble. Then, especially if it's a long an complex piece, I will start committing sections to memory. Once I have part of it memorized then I will play it with the metronome and really push the tempo until I'm well past the required speed. I don't start off with the entire piece this way, just reasonable sections. Here is where you have to be critical about mistakes. Never play at a tempo where you feel uncomfortable. As you work through a section make note of spots where you think you'll have trouble and drill those by making an exercise of the problem phrase. This takes experience and you need to be able to understand if the phrase is giving you trouble because it requires a new or unfamiliar technique on your part. If that's the case then you really need to go back a step and look at doing some basic exercises for that technique. If you cannot even execute a technique that the piece requires then learning the piece is not the right way to get better at technique. But if this is note the issue I'd say that you might be trying too hard and getting anxious.
Before drilling the piece, or sections of it, with a metronome it helps to really know it. That's why I commit it to memory before wood shedding. This way my mind is not distracted. You need to be objective a critique your level of performance relative to your experience and the solution might be different for different issues. If, for example, the notes in the piece seem relatively easy but there is heavy syncopation causing you to lose track of where you are then you might want to put the instrument down and try tapping out phrase. This helps me a lot. If the issue is an awkward change in fingering, then take the one place where that occurs and very very slowly play the two notes back and forth until your body is not tense when executing that fingering. If it's in the lip, or air flow, again slow down and play over the rough patch so slowly that there is not tension in your body until you can execute it over and over with no problems. Then play past that rough patch in the larger section.
Without knowing more about the specific issue you are having one can only guess. 3 hours is NOT a long time to practice. But it is too long to practice a mistake. As a final point I'd say that your practice session is a success if you have played over a rough patch multiple times without a mistake at any speed. In other words, unless you have to play it today or tomorrow, don't make the unreasonable expectation that by the end of one practice session the entire piece will have been mastered. Just take a few baby steps and leave it at that. You will mentally and physically benefit from stopping the session on a high note (pun). When working on speed runs we sometimes push the speed with the metronome and, even if there are no mistakes, finish with a practice run at half speed just to reinforce the correct pattern. Regardless of how the session sent, always go back to something you did correct and repeat it as your final task.