Monday, March 23, 2015

Practice Techniques -- The Burst

In a previous post, I described a method I use to build fluency and evenness in a technical passage while gaining a better feel for its structure.

This method (I call it "Skeletonization") works best when first learning a passage at a slow tempo or when trying to polish it at a faster tempo.

The method I'll discuss in this post -- The Burst Method -- is a more advanced technical practice method. It is best used after the notes in a passage are learned and most technical problems are solved.

Many of us are good at slow, careful practice. However, this kind of practice only takes you so far. Often, it's tough to move from slow practice to getting a passage up to tempo. Sometimes, there's a kind of barrier you hit.

The Burst is a great way to get a difficult passage up to tempo with security and consistency.

How It Works:

A. Choose a passage which is tough to play up to tempo cleanly and with consistency.

Let's use the latter half of the opening of Figaro as an example:

B. In that passage, choose a section that is easy for you to play PERFECTLY up to tempo 5-7 times in a row. Every difficult passage has at least a short section that is easy to replicate perfectly.  Use a metronome to keep yourself honest.
C. Next, add a small, manageable segment to the section and repeat 5-7 times perfectly:
D. Continue adding small segments until you've built up the whole passage:

Here is another way to use this method:

A. Taking another section of Figaro,

B. Start with a segment that involves a particular technical challenge that gives you problems. Choose a small enough segment so you can just focus on solving that particular problem first:

C. Then add segments before and after the tough spot, maintaining technical control over the original segment.

D. Now add segments after the trouble spot.

Here are some points to keep in mind when using this method:

1. Use patience and humility when practicing! Choose segments that make sense both from the standpoint of manageability and problem solving.

2. When adding segments, if you find you can't repeat a section perfectly up to tempo 5-7 times, STOP!!

3. Do not practice mistakes! Be honest and willing to go back to practicing a smaller segment if that's the best you can do in a practice section. "Pride cometh before a fall!"

4. The process of building a perfect, repeatable renditions of a difficult passage like Figaro up to tempo may take several days or even weeks. Work diligently and patiently. Practice should be in a mental zone requiring focused concentration, not easy comfort or an overwhelming feeling of panic or recklessness. For more about this, see this previous post.

5. Tailor the Burst Method to your own needs and ability. Everyone is different. The choices I made above might work for you, but maybe you'd make different choices. It's a very flexible method.

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