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10 ways to make practice more effective (and less boring!)

We all have those passages which just take a lot of hard work and persistence to master, but how do you avoid boring yourself to tears? Test out these 10 ideas to keep your practice sessions efficient and effective.

1. Swing it, baby!

Have you got a gazillion quavers or semiquavers in your piece? Instead of playing it as it is written, play it with swung quavers (but also make sure you do the reverse, so to not develop a tendency to always swing them!).

2. Drop it!

Just because there are notes printed on the page, doesn't mean you have to play all of them all the time. If you play a single-line instrument try to play every other note or just bring out the important notes in the bar. There are many more combinations which you can try, too!

3. Play it backwards!

For single-line instruments, this works a treat (sorry pianists! Your brain might explode here!) as you are putting the information into your brain in a different way. For tricky passages with leaps, it can also help to play the leaps the other way to ensure the tone quality is there constantly.

4. Find (or make!) a recording and play along with it

There are plenty of performances on Youtube to inspire your practice. Pick one and adjust the speed to 0.75 or 0.5 if you are just learning it, or ask your teacher to play you the piece in your lesson at an appropriate speed and make a recording on your phone or tablet to practice with at home.

5. March (or stamp) and play

Think you can play that bar really well now? Well, try it again and keep the pulse in your feet. If you have memorised your piece and have a portable instrument, walk around and play the part you are working on!

6. Cut it out!

Sometimes, taking a photocopy and going to town with scissors is quite liberating! If you have a really full-on section. Cut out all the bars (of a photocopy!) and put them on your music stand one at a time. Sort them into good and bad bars and get on to perfecting the 'bad' pile.

7. Colour

Got too many pencil markings obscuring your view? Use highlighters to draw your attention to the important things you are trying to perfect in that session.

8. Reward yourself

Make yourself mini-goals like learning the first 4 bars of the piece, or tackling the worst bar of that tricky passage. Decide on a little reward for achieving a little goal and then go and achieve it!

9. Roll-the-Dice!

Depending on your available time you can do this with one or two die. Roll a six-sided die to see how many times to play a section of a piece (that you have already worked on). Every time you play that correctly, turn the die so that the next lower number is facing up. For instance, if you roll a 5 and then play the passage correctly, turn the die to 4 and play again, and so on down to one.

10. Slow and Steady wins the pace!

If you have to get to a fast tempo, start very SLOWLY. Make sure you are playing with a good tone and proper fingering. Then speed the tempo up 1 bpm at a time (make a list of tempi and tick them off as you go to feel good about your progress). Be patient! If you have to play a performance at a particular date, decide on your performance speed and work backwards from there. A good guide is to not speed up more than 10bpm per week.

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