Practicing Backward

This is a technique that I’ve developed as a counteraction to a human trait that I will explain after the dot right here. 

If, for instance, someone decides to practice two things, 99% of people will spend most of their time/energy/focus on the first thing; when they get to the second thing, there is much less patience left over and it thus gets the short end of the stick. When these two things are then practiced again in this way, the second part again gets less than the first, and, over time, the disparity between the two parts becomes very great. It is the same with practicing a page of music. If we start practicing at the top, by the time we get to the bottom, we have less focus and time to practice the bottom of the page as much as the top, so as a result (over time—not too much time though), the same thing happens and we are much better at playing the first 16 bars then we are the last. 

The fix is relatively simple: instead of starting practicing at the top, or beginning of something, start it at the end or in the middle. Change it up so that you never start in the same place multiple times in a row. 

Some examples of this: 

1. An AABB fiddle tune. I KNOW that I will practice the A-part more than the B-part, so I make sure that 50% of the time, I start practicing the B-part first. 

2. A page of music. If I always start at the top, I will always have less patience and focus by the time I start working through the bottom. This way, I know to start from the bottom of the page (or the second half, or 16 bars from the end) first, and work the top of the page (or 32 bars before the end) after. 

3. Circle of Fifths practice. I, as a rule, never have made it through the Circle of Fifths with ANYTHING. I can TRY to do scales that go through the Circle of Fifths, but I can’t for the life of me not spend so much time practicing two or three scales that I forget to make it through the rest of them. And then later it’s like, “oh, well I only was able to do three scales… it’s been an hour and a half, I guess I’ll be done and pick it up later.” If I was to come back to it later and start from the beginning again, I would end up in the same situation: two to three scales rehearsed, and too tired to finish the other nine.  If I were to continue starting at the beginning, I would never succeed at practicing scales that were further through the sequence. So to counteract this, I make note of where I left off, that way I know where to pick it up next session, OR, I start from the back or middle of the sequence (or another random place that’s not the beginning) and go from there (I eventually would have everything rehearsed this way, but it’s a “chance” method and not planned very well at all). 

Those are three pretty good examples for going the opposite direction of a pretty ubiquitous tendency. 

A variation of the whole “practicing backward” thing, is to practice even more backward… Meaning, start in the last bar and practice it, then do the second-to-last bar, then the third-to-last bar, the the fourth-to-last bar, etc… It’s a very good way to make sure that you nail the end of whatever-it-is. 

Whichever method you decide to use, it certainly takes conscious effort not to start at the beginning of something. However, after doing it for a while, it will begin to feel more natural, which is good, because it is what they call a “lifestyle change”, except it’s for practicing. It’s something that should be done all the time, and should be a habitual way of practicing everything.

1 comment

  • Cheryl Frankfurth
    Cheryl Frankfurth Sequim
    love the idea of the backward practice...i will start that immediately! :)

    love the idea of the backward practice...i will start that immediately! smile

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