Practice through the Tough Parts: 2 Minutes To Mastery #1

Most of us have heard the saying “practice how you perform”

The spirit of that saying is: “really give it your all in rehearsal, so you know what that feels like. When you finally play the show, you can go on autopilot and everything will fall into place.”

I’d like to talk about the flip side of that coin.

There’s something most of us do repeatedly while we’re practicing. It’s something I have to remind myself constantly to avoid. When we get to a particularly difficult part – a riff or a weird chord or a drum fill – we go for it, don’t quite hit it, then we STOP. We pause, try it again… maybe make it halfway through before we pause again… and so on and so on. 

As it turns out, “practice how you perform” works quite literally.

In the (very common) situation I just described, what you are actually doing is practicing stopping. You are training your body and your mind to freeze up when you reach that point in the music. How do we avoid this? 

I’m not saying you aren’t going to need to play difficult passages many times before you’re comfortable, but…

Don't practice stopping
Don’t practice stopping!

Here are a few strategies for a better, more effective routine: 

  • Reserve an entire practice session (try starting with 5 minutes) to only work on that trouble spot. Don’t even try to play the whole song, just workshop that one thing and walk away.
  • When you’re ready to work that part into the song, play much slower than you think you need to. Remember, it’s important that you’re able to play straight through that hard part. That means starting before, playing through, and continuing after. Don’t stop to celebrate! (at least until a little later…) 
    • Pro tip: You can use a metronome for this, but I highly recommend using software like Transcribe or The Amazing Slow-Downer. This will allow you to play along with the actual track, but at a slower speed (or in a different key) 
  • Especially when you make a mistake, train yourself to keep going. This is the epitome of “practice how you perform”. You can’t stop at the show right? This takes real discipline, and that starts with your practice habits. 
    • I have a friend who gets this giant happy smile every time he makes a mistake, and everybody loves it. Get some of that in your life! 

First and foremost, have fun. You’ll get through the hard parts – I promise. Taking things slow and always playing through is more fun, and much more effective.

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