Would you like Pepperoni with that?

by Beth Barnadyn, Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn, Violin and Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn

You just got assigned a new piece, and there are some fast passages.  What do you do? How do you practice it?  One of the most common tendencies of musicians is to jump head first into a passage, and repeat the same few measures over and over until, hopefully, it starts to sound better. Unfortunately, this is not the best approach to mastering and ultimately learning a particular section or piece.   The key to learning any passage, whether rhythmically or technically demanding, is to practice in small chunks.

One of my favorite visual examples of how to approach the practicing of a piece is to think of it like a big pizza. If we wanted to eat the whole pizza, we wouldn’t stick the entire thing in our mouth at once, would we? No. We eat it one slice at a time. (Unless of course you are really hungry)   This is a great approach to learning a passage or piece in a timely and solid way.

First, you want to isolate those spots in the piece that need the most attention. Once you have these areas, focus on playing small sections at a time, typically no more than a measure long each. When playing, you will want to go extremely slow, listening for good intonation and good tone/sound quality.  After you have achieved a good foundation at that level, you can start to play the section faster, and to start playing with rhythmic variations. Some typical patterns for digestion would be long-short-long-short, and/or short-long-short-long.  This works for groupings of four, but you can easily play long-short-short, for example, for a group of three.   Continually work towards a faster and more complex rhythm, and you will master even the most difficult passages.

After a few days of eating the pizza slice by slice, you will find that you will master even the most difficult passages. The key to success is to not get frustrated.   Just take it one bite at a time!

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