Sunday, March 29, 2015

Practice Technique -- The Pyramid

The last technique I'd like to explore in this series on practice techniques is what I call "The Pyramid".

This is the best technique I know for building consistency and routine in execution of the most difficult passages.

Through multiple repetitions of a passage at carefully paced speeds, I can achieve a confidence, ease and reliability with just about any piece of music.

The Pyramid is methodical and somewhat time-consuming. It takes its inspiration from physical training. Anyone who has run intervals on a track or does strength training will find this method familiar.

Here are some instructions for use:

1. Choose speeds and number of repetitions that match your short-term goal for the passage in question.

2. For a passage that is nearly ready for performance at an audition or a concert, at first choose a top speed that is 85-90% of performance tempo.

An Example:

 Performance tempo = 144

=130                                             X
=125                                        XX/XX
=120                                      XXX/XXX
=115                                   XXXX/XXXX
♩ =110                                XXXXX/XXXXX

3. Start with the slowest speed, = 110 and play 5 times, move up to = 115 and play four times, etc. After playing at = 130 once, move back down in order: ♩ = 125 2x, ♩ = 120 3x, etc.

4. During all of this, make sure that you can execute ALL repetitions at all speeds perfectly. If this isn't possible, then re-structure your "pyramid" to make it easier. 

5. The focus should be on calm, clean, matter-of-fact playing throughout. 

6. Later you can move the pyramid's speeds up so that the top tempo reaches the performance tempo you want.

7. This technique can also be used for a passage that is just being learned -- not ready to be played up to tempo. Choose a top speed at which you can play the notes perfectly with confidence, but must focus intensely on doing so. The slowest speed in the pyramid should easy for you, but not boring.

8. As the week progresses you can move the speeds up or increase the "distance" between speeds in the pyramid's levels to work towards your performance tempo.

9. Increments between speeds can be adjusted. Putting too large an increment between speeds can result in a top speed that's too fast or a bottom speed that's unnecessary.

10. With #6, you can incorporate other techniques if you want, such as changing rhythms or articulations.

11. Watch for tension in the body. Excessive use of an exercise like this can lead to a repetitive use injury.

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