6 Steps to Practice a New Piece of Music
Do you feel lost when looking at that new piece you want to play?
Use these 6 practice strategies to learn beautiful music fast and play expressively:
If playing through the piece endlessly is not the most effective way to learn. Perhaps that worked in your first years of playing, but when you start playing more difficult repertoire you need smart practice strategies.
Step 1: Find good sheet music with handy bowings and fingerings
Some sheet music can save you a LOT of time as you don’t have to invent the wheel regarding fingering and bowing. Other prints can just confuse you. Find sheet music that is easy to read and includes handy notes. If you can’t it, buy an urtext without notes so unhandy notes won’t confuse you.
When I started learning the Mendelssohn violin concerto, I struggled a lot with it. I had sheet music with fingerings that made everything so much harder. Instead of inventing the wheel I searched the web and found the edition edited by Leopold Auer. That made things so much easier, saved me loads of practice time and made my sound a lot better. The fingerings weren’t only easier, but sounded better as well.
Step 2: Listen to recordings while reading the sheet music
Listen to different recordings of the piece you’re working on. Notice the differences and let them inspire your own interpretation. Listening to the music while reading the sheet music is very useful to get a good ‘sound image’ of the piece. The notes will come to live. It will be easier for you to correct yourself when practicing as you know how the piece should sound in detail.
Step 3: Play the piece slowly and mark the difficult parts
Play through as good as it gets and identify what the bits are you need to work on most. Best is to make notes of them in the sheet music with a pencil. Once you master that little part, you can erase it.
Step 4: Find exercises, scales or etudes to support your practice of the difficult parts
For a new piece it’s always good to play scales and arpeggio’s in the key of the piece. Look at the difficulties you identified in step 4 and think about how you can train the skills you need to play it. Find good exercises or an etude.
Step 5: Zoom in and practice in chunks
Don’t play through the whole piece again and again. Instead, start with mastering part of it. This can be three lines or just a couple of bars. You don’t need to start with the beginning of the piece.
Step 6: Zoom out and practice the whole piece
It’s time to add everything together. Play the whole piece. Now you’ve mastered the technical difficulties with step 4 and 5, you can focus on interpretation, expression. Also you can play together with others and go to the rehearsal well prepared.
Repeat all the steps several times for one piece
Listening, zooming in and out, practicing chunks or other exercises and working on interpretation aren’t strict steps. You go back and forth depending on your progress. In your practice session, your teacher is not present and you need to correct yourself. Also you need to guide yourself what practice strategy is best at the moment.