Almost every musician faces a batter’s slump once in awhile. Maybe you feel like you are not making headway in your practice sessions. Maybe you are continuing to have trouble articulating all of the notes in those fast Tchaikovksy runs, or you are having some trouble getting the double-stops in tune in your Bach solo.
Let me offer a couple of suggestions that will help you to conquer any slump in your practice sessions:
1 ) Break Up Your Solos and Excerpts into Smaller Sections
The number one reason why musicians have trouble practicing is because they try to learn too much at one time. Attempting to fish through notes and make it through the end of your new solo in one session is a completely inefficient way to practice. Consider breaking up your solo into smaller sections to be learned over the course of a longer period of time. This will allow you to set higher standards for each individual section and give you a chance to choreograph the left and right hand for each individual note as it transitions into the next.
2 ) Use Your Metronome
Not only will using a metronome help you to solidify your tempo, but it will challenge you to practice in a controlled manner. Put brackets around one difficult section, start with the first note and line it up with the metronome. As you become comfortable with the first note, add the next note to the first and continue to add notes until you reach the end of the bracketed section. One overlooked benefit of using a metronome in this method of practicing is that with each repetition you start to disengage from the page and focus on what you are doing physically with the instrument. You start to think about what part of the bow you are using, the kind of weight that you are applying with the bow, the speed of your shifts, and so many other components related to kinesthetic learning, all within a controlled environment.
3 ) Temporarily Modify the Rhythms and Dynamics
This is a great strategy for practicing fast passages and runs. If the written rhythm consists of four measures of sixteenth notes, consider practicing it as if the passage was written entirely as a dotted-sixteenth, thirty-second note rhythm throughout. You will notice that you will be practicing swifter shifts in the left hand to accommodate the dotted rhythm as opposed to the straight rhythm. If the written dynamic is marked forte, try practicing it piannissimo for awhile, and you’ll notice that you are forced to further clarify and articulate notes with the left hand.
4) Practice Difficult Passages at a Different Part of the Bow
Is your sound scratchy and unreliable when you play softly at the lower half of the bow? Try practicing the same passage at the upper half of the bow, adjust your bow speed, and see if you notice a difference. You can always find a halfway point between the tip and the frog, but at least you should start to notice a change in your tone and a difference in the way that you engage the forefinger into the string.
5 ) Clarify Your Goals and Find Your Reason for Practicing
Almost every musician has faced a moment when they start to disengage from their practice sessions. While there is no doubt that musicians can go through periods of burnout, often times we simply need to remember why we are practicing and why we enjoy playing. What excites you most about being a musician? What do you ultimately want to do with your music? Maybe you want to perform like your favorite artist. Maybe you want to solo in front of a professional orchestra. Maybe you want to start a non-profit and help people in your community. Maybe a standing ovation excites you. Maybe inspiring children to join their school’s orchestra and inevitably engage with classical music is what gets you excited. Whatever that goal might be, figure out that one thing in the future that excites you so much that you have to pick up the instrument over doing anything else. Writing down your goals and dreams will help you to associate practicing more with passion than with boredom or a mere task to complete.