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Keeping Practice Interesting

I'm glad you brought this up. This is a common problem for most people. When you are playing something with little emotional content, it takes more determination to keep your focus.

But at least you're not alone. Everybody, from beginners to professionals, plays scales and etudes. These are necessary because we need to maintain our "muscle memory." Playing an instrument requires very fine motor control. The muscles used for this fine control are not usually used in everyday life. This is why we all feel a little sore when we play after not having played for several days. Therefore, these muscles quickly atrophy if they are not continually exercised. Scales and etudes are a necessity for everybody!

I remember, when I was starting out on the cello, that I found scales to be a drudgery. But I have found over the years that I actually look forward to playing them. Scales are an endless challenge and I am always hoping for the day when I can play them perfectly. Knowing how much they benefit me has helped me enjoy them. If you stick with it, you may begin to enjoy them too.

I imagine you are also playing some songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. These songs can get tiresome. Admittedly, they don't captivate me like the Dvorak Concerto. But we all had to go through it.

So anyway....

Below are some suggestions for helping you keep your focus. You'll note that a common theme in them is that you need to be creative so that you don't get in a rut. Variety makes things more interesting:

1. Change the order of the stuff you play in your practice session. As Gordon Epperson says in his book, The Art of Cello Teaching, "Never follow an invariable routine, for this is soul-destroying." There is no law that says you have to start each practice session with scales. You could play a simple etude or song first. Each day, do things in a different order. This will help make things more interesting.

2. Between each of your assigned pieces or exercises, experiment a little on your own. Try to figure out how to play "Hey Jude" or something. A little experimentation never hurt anybody. You don't always have to play what you are assigned. This brief moment of creativity may rejuvinate you before you move on to the next piece.

3. Don't always play things all the way through without breaks. If you are playing entire pieces without breaking them down into smaller parts, it's easy to get into auto-pilot mode. Break the piece or etude into smaller parts. Work on each part until you get it as good as you can. Then gradually add the parts together.

4. Set a goal for yourself in each practice session. For instance, you could make sure that your bow arm never sags, no matter what you are playing. Practicing with a larger concept in mind, one that transcends Twinkle Twinkle, gives the practice session more meaning.

5. Practice with a metronome. Metronomes keeping on ticking even if you stop playing. They tend to give one more discipline.

6. Say to yourself, I'm not going to move on to the next measure or phrase until I have played it perfectly 10 times in a row. Then do the same thing for the next part etc.

7. Vary the tempo, dynamics, rhythm, bowings of your scales.

8. If your concentration is really meandering, take a short break. But come back and practice some more!!!

Tim Janof

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Tim Janof, ICS Director
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