100 Days of Practice, Day 11: God Bless Public Accountability

Today would have been an absolute non-runner were it not for... well, YOU. So thank you. If you weren't here, I probably wouldn't be, either.

It was a very late night last night, followed by a very busy day today. And with the last half hour of my waking day, I went to the ol' must-chamber--the chamber of mustiness, the cave... the basement practice room--and worked on the Brazilian tune that I've been pursuing... and then some reels written by Sligo/Mayo fiddler and composer Brendan Tonra.

No long tones. No technique. Time was limited; I decided to jump right in.

And now....

Thank Pat the Fabulous, for today's insight: "Less is more."

When practice time is limited and you're working on a new tune, it's best to just focus on parts of it and master them, rather than playing the whole tune half-arsed and saying you'll get back to those tough spots later on. It feels as if it takes longer to learn a tune this way, and it probably does. But what's the rush? Better to take longer to learn a tune but play it impeccably, than to learn it quickly but never iron out the bumps and play it only semi-well.

If any particular practice session is time-limited (aren't they all?), try focusing on the stuff you CAN'T do, not the stuff you can. Identify those particularly difficult passages, and work 'em. Work the hardest phrases slowly, over and over--increasing the speed ONLY when you can play it perfectly at the slower tempo.

So, that's what I tried to do tonight. Just work the really tough measures of this Brazilian tune I've been working on (i.e, getting my #$*&#$^ kicked by.) It's so tough because it's a different language, and I'm playing it on a different instrument: silver flute, not Irish. I haven't played the silver flute in years, nor have I ever mastered it.

What's also tough about this tune is that the shapes of the phrases are so radically different than in the Irish tunes I've been working on. With Irish music, once you've learned, say 50 or so tunes, you'll find that new tunes become increasingly easy to learn. So many of the new ones are just pieces of old ones rearranged. Within the tradition, the variety of rhythms is also limited; most tunes select rhythms from a finite buffet of rhythmic motifs. Look too far beyond that buffet table and you're in a different restaurant altogether.

So the new tune: Brazilian? The key of F# minor? Completely different rhythmic accents? A new instrument? And notes that don't exist on the Irish flute? This is unfamiliar and challenging. I'm a beginner again.

And as a beginner, I find myself forgetting all the things I would tell a student learning a new tune:

1. Break it into parts.

2. Slow it down.

3. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. But always with an eye toward getting it right. Then once you have it right, repeat it correctly numerous times. Just to make sure it wasn't luck.

4. Only when you can play it slowly, perfectly, do you increase the speed.

5. Get it right? Move on to the next part of the tune. Only when one part is mastered do you move onto the next.

6. Take your time. Learning it WELL rarely correlates directly to learning it QUICKLY.

7. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. But only if you can repeat the same phrase over and over again PERFECTLY. If you're not playing it right, then all you're doing is practicing a mistake. When this happens:

8. Take a break.

Then go back to 1.

And finally, know when to say when. If it's just not coming, leave it. Walk away. Do something else. Clean the fridge. Or go to bed.

Speaking of which... see you back here tomorrow.


Debra Murphy said…
Thanks for the list. I know that, but it helps to have it said again so I don't get discouraged when I am basically learning EVERYTHING! :-)I played at a slow session at someone's house last night. That's a fun and non-threatening way to get some new tunes and practice the ones you are learning.
Peig said…
day 12

Had a nice long easy practice. Worked on new tune. I think the long tones are helping the breathing issue.

next week want to work more with the slow down software and timing thing.
Peig said…
day 13

monday blues......got in a short practice this am with an additional few tonight. still doing long tones and ran through all tunes. still have not sat in with recorded tunes. note to self: skip the beer before and after dinner and sit with recorded music.