Best Way To Practise?

Posted In: How To Play

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    Anonymous on #190395

    Hi everyone,

    This is my first post as an adult who has been teaching herself to play the harp for 2 years using Pamela Bruner’s lovely books and Deborah Friou’s exercises for Agility and Speed. I have no teacher and wonder if anyone could give advice on the best way to practice to achieve the best results?

    Biagio on #190396

    Depends on how much time you have available but here are some general guidelines that many have found useful:

    Set aside a specific time (or times) per day. No more than one hour at a stretch.
    Set up a work space or table with all the essentials so you don’t have to get up in the middle to find something: wrench, tuner, metronome, egg timer, pencils, whiteout, nail files, water, music, etc.
    Tune up even if you don’t think it’s needed. Get used to “stretch tuning” while at it. There was a discussion about this recently.

    The above does not count as “practice time”.

    Decide what you are going to work on, broken into discreet intervals, and set that egg timer at no more than 15 minutes. Get up and stretch or do something else between intervals (Why? Because it is a rare mind that can retain much beyond 15 minutes of intense concentration).

    Here’s one suggestion of what to do in a one hour sessions:
    -Warm up with music that you know and like.
    -Exercises and etudes
    -Work on a new piece
    -Revisit an “old” piece.
    -Free time – have some fun with improvisation, play a chord progression in different keys, just gliss all over the place….

    I find that it is very helpful to organize music in a binder as follows:
    -Ready to perform or at least have memorized
    -Working on
    -Want to learn
    -Want to arrange (or change the arrangement)
    Rotate through the binder so you are always revisiting stuff you know already.

    Some other tips: getting in the mood beforehand may be helpful – listen to a piece you want to learn some day, do a little quiet meditation, visualize the music. For stretching, be especially aware of strain on the lower back, neck, and shoulders. Yoga or Tai chi are especially good.

    Have fun!


    Alyson Webber on #190397

    My teacher and I started breaking up pieces into a couple measures at a time per day. If you play those measures slowly until you get them right at least 10 times in a row you are done with that piece for the day. At the end of the week, string together what you have learned. We do this because I am always tempted to keep going instead of learning it.

    You can also try learning a piece from the end that same way. Learn the last few measures, then a couple measures before that. It helps to keep from rushing ahead before you are ready, and helps you end a piece with confidence as it is the part you know the best.

    It seems to be working so far! 🙂

    hearpe on #190399

    I’m becoming a big fan of arpeggios and scales- My piano playing is improving greatly since I got a couple of basic books with some simple exercises- I’m widening my experience up and down the keyboard, and I’m finding the very same exercises work well on harp. They especially have shown me how different the harp sounds in other keys- simply played on a piano but set up with the levers on my harp. Repetition of the exercises seems to give one a feel for which notes go with which, and how to get to them more quickly as you move up and down the harp scale. Highly recommend.

    diane-michaels on #190450

    Identify your mistakes and isolate them. Do your eyes, ears and fingers know what note comes next? Practice from the last correct note you played to the note you’re not playing accurately. Focus on that relationship and not other notes until you can play from one to the next without the mistake three times in a row. Back up a beat before this spot and repeat this drill. Back up to the beginning of the phrase and repeat this drill. Go back to the beginning and repeat this drill.

    Is it a hard shape for your hand to open quickly and efficiently? Put the shape in your hand by recomposing the placed group of notes or chord. If it’s a linear group of notes (placed together but played individually), turn it into a blocked chord (play all notes at same time). If it’s a chord, play one note at a time. Play from bottom to top. Play from top to bottom. Play bottom to top to bottom to top… Move the shape to a different starting pitch. Use rhythmic variations – play the notes in a dotted eighth-sixteenth pattern. Reverse to sixteenth-dotted eighth. Once you’ve learned the shape, build it in using the first paragraph’s suggestions.

    Tacye on #190454

    There is a cynical definition of practice: playing something wrong repeatedly while praying it goes right on the night. Avoid this!

    Know what you are aiming to achieve – if you aren’t sure exactly how to do something spend your time working out how to do it rather than repeating something you suspect isn’t right and embedding bad habits.

    20 minutes a day is generally more productive than 2 hours once a week. Keep coming back to things as that gives you more practice at getting them right first time.

    It usually takes around six weeks of conscious thought before a muscle movement will become habit.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #190655

    Why aren’t you taking lessons? A teacher will show you how to practice, and playing for a teacher is an essential part of improving.

    Anonymous on #190798

    Hi again everyone,

    Thanks for all your replies, which arrived individually by email and so I answered them directly (hope they arrived OK). However, I’ve just realised that it will be far more useful to others if I also reply publicly here on the forum, so here goes.

    Biagio – Thank you so much for your reply and the very valuable information contained therein. I will find it all very helpful as a relative beginner and I appreciated all of your hints and tips too! I especially welcomed your ideas for what to include in a 1 hour practice. I do set a time and stick to it, for 1 hours practice a day, but I often cant decide what to do. I liked the idea of revisiting pieces and did this after reading your post. To my surprise, the piece I used to find difficult, is now easier after revisiting it after some weeks. So now I know that I am progressing!! So you have helped me so much.

    Thank you Alyson – I have just the same problem, wanting to keep going instead of really learning a small section. Thank you so much for your help.

    Thank you Diane – identifying mistakes is such a good idea so thank you so much for your advice on how to tackle this!

    Saul: Unfortunately, there are very few Harp Teachers where I live, and those that are here are not very good. I may think about going on Skpe, but thank you for your thoughts.

    Thanks to everyone for their advice!


    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #191307

    Yes, Skype lessons or other video would be your best alternative to have a good teacher, then. I can set up to do that.

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #191550 has got some of the best advice on practising that I have ever seen.
    This most recent one is gold!

    Philippa mcauliffe on #191564

    Hi Elizabeth, I love that site too. I hadn’t seen that latest article. I went to Alice’s teach the teacher how to teach beginners course this year which was really fun and had lots of experienced teachers as well as brand new ones on it. I learnt heaps about teaching but I dont think anyone mentioned that advice. Have you ever had a student do the bulletproof musician online course on improving performance and if so how did they go? I was wondering about doing it as part of my research project for school next year but its hard to work out how to judge how well or not it works or which bits of it work best!

    My tip would be to watch yourself on video and see how your hand and fingers look and how you close your fingers. Each hand will be a little different according to size and finger length but you will see if you look comfortable and like a version of what you are trying to do. Helps if you get a video of doing it properly at a lesson so you have something to aim for. Once you know what sound you are aiming for it gets easier too but again, you need a teacher to help with that.

    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #191572

    Hello, Philippa! No, I have not had one of my students take the online bulletproof musician course. If anyone has, we would be very interested to hear how it went!

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