If you’ve been a musician for any length of time, you know the struggle of a practice session that just isn’t going your way.
Yesterday you were doing great, but today your fingers are tangled, your page turns aren’t smooth, your rhythm is off, and you just can’t hit that pesky C-sharp.
So how do you get yourself back on track?
Here are some suggestions to help you fix your technique and get back to where you want to be.
Back to Basics
One of the best ways to fix your technique is to go back to the beginning.
Try playing some scales and chord progressions, or play an easy piece that you learned a long time ago.
Then play it again, paying special attention to your fingering, dynamics, and phrasing.
Sometimes a refresher is all you need to remind your fingers what to do.
Slow It Down
One of the most common causes of practice-related frustration is trying to play a piece at a faster speed than you’re ready for.
Try slowing it down a little (or a lot!) and see how it feels. By playing at a slower tempo, you’ll be able to read the notes and process the rhythm and dynamics more accurately.
Remember, slower practice makes for faster improvement.
Play It Measure By Measure – Backwards
This one might seem bizarre at first, but hear me out: sometimes the best way to learn a piece accurately is to play it backwards.
Play the ending measure until you get it down, then add the second-to-last measure and play those two. Keep backing up one measure until you can play the entire piece.
This end-to-beginning approach was a favorite exercise of my piano teacher.
It forces your brain to focus on each individual part of the music. You might discover that you were playing the wrong notes on that chord or counting that difficult rhythm incorrectly.
A new perspective is often all that you need to start making progress once again.
Break It Down
If you can’t seem to get a piece down, try breaking it into smaller sections and working on them one at a time.
Start by playing only the right hand or only the left, or just focus on that sixteenth-note run that’s been giving you fits. Work on the key change or octave jump that you’ve been struggling with until you can play it smoothly.
Breaking a large goal into several smaller ones is helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
Have Some Fun
We often get so focused on learning, progressing, and meeting challenges that we forget to enjoy ourselves.
If you’re feeling frazzled during your practice sessions, consider putting your current pieces away for a day and spend some time playing something you love.
Maybe it’s that piece you played for a recital years ago or your favorite hymn arrangement, or maybe you want to break out your old lesson books and take a trip down memory lane.
Whatever you do, have fun with it and just play for the joy of playing. It makes a big difference!
Try Something New
If you’re stuck in a practice rut, it might be the perfect time to try something you haven’t done before.
Transpose the piece to a minor key, add some jazz improvisation, or pull out that new piece that you haven’t looked at yet.
Challenging yourself with something new might be just what you need to get your creative juices flowing once again.
If your fingers just aren’t cooperating, try walking away from your instrument and spend some time just looking at the music.
Pay attention to the form of the piece and the shape of the melody. What repeated patterns do you see?
Find a recording of the piece, close your eyes, and listen to it a few times. How do the dynamics and phrasing bring the notes to life?
Studying the piece for a few minutes without playing it might help you see it in a whole new light.
Check Your Habits
This might seem obvious, but your mental and physical health both have a huge impact on your practicing (as well as everything else you do).
Make sure you’re eating well and getting enough sleep, and try not to put too much stress on yourself by setting unrealistic goals.
Taking care of yourself will help you in all areas, including your ability to practice effectively.
Find a Friend
Playing with someone else is an enjoyable way to improve your musicianship. It’s less lonely than solo practice – and it quickly alerts you to mistakes you’ve been making!
Having someone else to practice and experiment with might be just what you’ve been missing.
Take a Break
Sometimes we just have a hard time practicing no matter what we try. That’s usually a signal that it’s time to walk away and clear our heads.
Spend some time doing and thinking about other things.
Remember, your instrument isn’t going anywhere and you can always try again tomorrow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
How do you fix your technique when your practice isn’t going well? Leave a comment below!