Teacher Tips: Time management and practice

September 15, 2020

Our schedules are normally filled with a broad variety of activities, many of them very important and not easy to postpone. Practice is one of those tasks in which we musicians are expected to spend a portion of our days.

As the repertoire gets gradually more challenging and the pieces lengthier, it becomes essential to prioritize and organize the available practice time. On many occasions we are tempted to start practicing a piece from the very beginning, and when running into a tricky passage or mistake, we go back to the top of the page. This apparently simple (and customary) action could demand a substantial part of our limited practice time.

A friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Lynn Worcester Jones (Keyboard Area Coordinator at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) presented an idea to help with this common problem, which she calls the three I’s.

  • Identify: as we run into a problematic spot in a piece, we stop and circle the measure/s or phrase that needs special attention. That means we now know exactly where the problem lies.
  • Isolate: once the section of music has been identified, we are ready to spend some time practicing in a variety of ways (rhythmic patterns, note by note, gradually speeding up the tempo, etc...)
  • Incorporate: after a practice session dedicated to the problematic spot, the challenge is now incorporating that passage into the bigger picture, without making our first mistake of playing the piece from beginning to end. Thus, depending on the musical context or the length of the phrase, we are going to play from one or two measures before the isolated spot, and continue for one or two measures after it.

This simple, yet effective strategy, will make our limited practice time significantly more efficient and less time consuming. I look forward to sharing more practice strategies with you at our annual Piano Day!

– Dr. Marcelo Lian | Piano Artist-Faculty

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