Happy Fall!

I hope this installment finds you well and eagerly practicing! I thought I would take this opportunity both to fulfill the request of 2016 workshop participants and to provide a sampling for those who may join us next summer. I had the privilege of giving one of the morning classes, and in that class I shared the practice process I give to my students. I have tweaked it since this summer, and it has proven to be very effective, providing a qualitative structure in five steps.

Ken’s Practice Process

STEP ONE
Learn note names and their locations

Step one is usually done away from the cello because knowing what 4 Lines of Information:

  • Line ONE – Fingerings/Bowings: Fingerings are always numeric, written clearly above the notes. Bowings are written above the fingerings.
  • Line TWO – Staff: Sometimes you may need to remind yourself of an occasional note that doesn’t have a sharp or flat by it because it is in the key signature – it happens! Lightly write the accidental by the note (with the intent of erasing it later when you become more familiar with it).
  • Line THREE – Dynamics: I color-code my dynamics in my practice part. Being able to see clearly when I’m supposed to get louder, softer, accent, etc. helps me get to my artistic goal for the performance more quickly.
  • Line FOUR – Positions: Knowing exactly when the hand should move from one position to another is vital in quickly becoming comfortable with the music, and thus brings you one step closer to performance. Positions are marked specifically below the notes in roman numerals, thereby distinguishing them from your fingerings (which should be written above the notes anyway!). I use a 7-position method, but you should implement whatever system you have learned.

STEP TWO
Mentally log in the notes

Play the notes without thinking about any bowings, rhythm, or tempo to figure out simply where they lie on the fingerboard. I suggest playing all the notes as equal quarter notes. It is OK to hesitate between notes at this point because you are just registering the notes mentally.

STEP THREE
Begin SPT

SPT, also known as Snail’s Pace Tempo, may be as slow as you like, but it must be slow enough that you are ready to play the next note in whatever tempo you have set. Hesitation is no longer allowed. Steadily build the tempo beyond SPT until you are playing the notes pretty quickly but not rhythmically (that comes later).

STEP FOUR
Play the notes with the proper rhythm but still without bowings (in other words, play the passage through using only separate bows)
SPT is not so SPT anymore; this is the bottom end of your performance tempo.

STEP FIVE
Play the notes, rhythms, and bowings at the current tempo(which is slightly faster than SPT by this time)
Continue to build the tempo using the Five Times Method.

The goal of the Five Times Method is to play your practice passage 5 times without any hesitation. If you have played it through 4 times and you make a mistake on your final play-through, you must start over.

That’s it! I still use this process, and I find it to be very good for memory work as well. Because you do step one away from the instrument, you retain more from the visualization required to figure out fingerings than you would sitting at the instrument and hashing out the notes. You also avoid mentally logging all your mistakes. Try it, and let me know how it goes!

Happy Practicing!

Photo by Jenifer Morris