Practice Tip #2

Context. This is one of the number one things to pay attention to when practicing, especially if you're heavily into isolationistic, repeat-it-until-it's-nailed, kind of practice. 

When you isolate a shift (or anything else) to practice, you've taken it out of context. The longer you practice it out of context, the further away from its purpose within the piece it gets. Eventually, you end up practicing a completely different shift, and when you try to put it back into the piece... it doesn't work. Imagine practicing a shift for 40 minutes straight (I've done that) out of context. Probably by the 5-minute mark, you were doing a completely different shift altogether. Now, even though you've solidified a shift outside the piece, it serves no function in the piece at all; your time was wasted, and you're frustrated because you've been told that practicing something a million times is supposed to work. And it didn't. NOW, imagine that you take that same shift out of context, practice it a couple times, then put it back in context and try it, then take it out again and fix it some more, then put it back in context and see if it works, etc... This way, you are constantly reminding yourself what the shift actually is, within the piece, and you're actually practicing the right thing. Do THIS for 40 minutes, and you'll have it nailed.

I've had so much experience with this. I remember practicing a double-stop shift (in thirds) for a whole hour by itself. And then I realized that when I played the grace notes leading up to it, my elbow was actually directly underneath the neck of the violin, instead of off to the side like I had practiced it! It changes the entire shift. I'm just using shifts for examples, but it works the same for anything.

So. Practicing in context is important.
Here's how to do it:

Just constantly alternate between putting whatever-it-is back within the measure or two (before and after it), and practicing it by itself like there's no tomorrow. 


Simple, but remember:

1. Tempo is context as well as notes! Slowing something down is taking it out of context and so is speeding it up. Remember to return it to the right tempo, as well as the surrounding notes.

2. Practice it with a metronome, so that your tempo is consistent. There's nothing worse than having unknowingly practiced something slower, and then realizing it in the middle of a flurry of notes.

3. Don't always start from the same spot in the surrounding notes when putting it back in context. Your brain gets used to starting there, and then it can't start anywhere else for the life of it. Put some variety in there! And it makes it more interesting anyhow.

4. Range is context as well. Practicing bowings on open strings is good (and I love it), but sometimes where the note is on the fingerboard can change the tone quality of the bowing. In that case, playing the passage the same way you practiced it on open strings is going to sound awful.

Have fun...

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