Spot Practice

Spot Practice

How many of you use slow practice in your practice routine? Slow practice is a tried and true method for working through and solving all kinds of difficult passages in our repertoire. (Simon wrote a blog post about three different ways of slowing down that you should be using in your practice routine if you’re not already!)

Slow practice is an essential part of the learning process and can help identify problems we might otherwise miss while playing at faster tempos as well as give our fingers the time they need to choreograph difficult movements in the hands.

When Slow Practice Isn’t Enough

However, have you ever tried slowing something down and you still struggle to play a passage or difficult left-hand shift accurately? Our fingers have a mind of their own and sometimes we’re asking our little muscles and tendons to make intricate movements they’re really not used to in their everyday activities. Naturally that means even when we try and slow things down our fingers might still resist. We must take time to develop these movements so that we begin to get control of our fingers and they can go where we want them to and not where they want to! I’d like to discuss with you a practice exercise that can help a great deal in this kind of situation where slow practice isn’t quite enough: it’s called spot practice.

Spot Practice

Spot practice is a lot like slow practice, but with one important difference: while slow practice reduces the tempo to give your fingers more time to make the movements they need to make and to identify problems you couldn’t notice when playing at faster tempos, spot practice removes tempo as a factor altogether.

Here’s how spot practice works: when you get to a tricky spot in a passage (something slow practice should have helped you identify as a trouble passage!) we want to STOP. Completely pause right at, say, that difficult left-hand shift. Then take it step by step, without the tempo: (1) Determine exactly the movements your fingers need to make to get from where they are to where they need to go; (2) Begin to prepare your fingers over the strings they are going to go; (3) Shift positions and carefully and in a relaxed manner place your fingers to land the shift; (4) Repeat. That’s it! The point here is to give your fingers the time they need to make that shift accurately.

Whatever you do, don’t play it faster than you can do it accurately.” -Martha Masters

Focus on Accuracy

One popular method for learning repertoire is the “play-through method”: play through it and, if you make a mistake, start over and try again. Unfortunately what this method does is actually reinforce the mistake so that we start to make the mistake into a habit: our muscles start to build up memory of the motions we’re training them to make. What we want to avoid in our practice is playing through mistakes and inaccuracies. Instead we want to make quality repetitions in the practice room, which means our focus must be on accuracy when utilizing spot practice.

Bringing Slow Practice Back in

Once spot practice has done its work and you feel very comfortable with the shift or finger movements without the tempo it’s time to bring slow practice back in to work up to your target tempo. Start from a very slow, steady tempo (it has to still be slow enough to give your fingers the time they need to get where they need to go) and then gradually work up to your target tempo without rushing the process: be patient and let the process do its work. Use a metronome so you know exactly where your comfortable tempo is, so if you move up and it’s too fast you know exactly what tempo to back up to. If you bring the passage or shift up to tempo too quickly without really reinforcing accuracy and quality repetitions, once again you’ll be building up bad habits and spot practice won’t benefit you the way it could.

What will you make of it?

Spot practice is an excellent practice method that can make a difficult passage much easier than it at first seems. It can really build confidence and all but ensures that you’ll be able to play the passage without mistakes more times than not. The real question, though, is: Will you make this a part of your practice routine and stick with it? Spot practice can only really be effective when we begin to purge older, bad habits and replace them with new, good habits.

A Challenge

So I’d like to offer you a challenge:

Take a difficult passage–just one passage, just one shift even!–from your repertoire and give spot practice a real go this week. Remember the key features of spot practice:

  • Stop at the difficult spot;
  • Plot the movements your fingers need to make and make those movements one step at a time without the tempo;
  • Repeat so you can play it accurately until it becomes comfortable;
  • Then use slow practice, starting at a slow steady tempo, to work back up to your target tempo.
  • And, most importantly, don’t play it faster than you can do it accurately.

 

Leave a comment below and let us know how you do with spot practice!

 

2018-01-11T20:23:45+00:00 18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. John Andersson January 11, 2018 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    This was an excellent 10 minute video. The clarity of the explanation of spot practice and slow practice is excellent. For me it was something I have heard of before and often use, however Dave gives extra tips and its always useful to be reminded of technique tools. Occassionally I have reversed engineered a spot practice. For example I do the end note and work backwards seeing how my hands and fingers even arm position adjust or should be in that perfect position. Again excellent video

    • Dave Belcher January 11, 2018 at 11:09 pm - Reply

      Great idea to reverse engineer the process, John! Glad you found the video useful. Thanks for the nice comment.

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  2. Mark Campbell January 12, 2018 at 4:29 am - Reply

    Outstanding video Dave. Extremely helpful in managing the many challenging shifts in the B section of Romance Anónimo. Many thanks and warm regards, Mark

    • Dave Belcher January 17, 2018 at 1:06 am - Reply

      Glad you found it helpful, Mark! That B section definitely has some challenging shifts. All the best to you.

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  3. Chris Miller January 12, 2018 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Just the technique I needed Dave. Hopefully this will get me out of the problem I have controlling my left hand.

    Thanks

    Chris

    • Dave Belcher January 17, 2018 at 1:07 am - Reply

      Glad to hear, Chris! The beauty of this technique is that you can really take your time making minute movements. Let us know how you do with it!

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  4. Roger Hyam January 12, 2018 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks Dave. Really useful. I think I have kind of been doing this anyway. I’d be working really slowly then find I was stuck on a bit where I curse my fingers and/or the metronome, turn the metronome off and just play that bar or two over and over, then turn the metronome back on. Now I know it is spot practice I can be more intensional and structured about it and do it sooner, without having to go through the frustration phase.

    • Dave Belcher January 17, 2018 at 1:08 am - Reply

      Ha! Glad to hear it’s useful for your own practice, Roger. We all need to curse at our fingers and the metronome every once in a while, but hopefully this will help make that urge less frequent. :)

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  5. Jeff Peek January 14, 2018 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Thanks for posting this, Dave. It’s a real nugget.

    I tried your Synchronization Exercise (Fabio Zanon) a month after starting CGC and basically needed to do spot practice to get started with finger coordination. And it took a while! I appreciate your addressing the topic and explaining the “why” and how” of it.

    -Jeff

    • Dave Belcher January 17, 2018 at 1:08 am - Reply

      Thanks for the nice comment, Jeff, and glad you’re liking this practice technique as well as the sync exercise!

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  6. Michael Steinbrecher January 14, 2018 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Dave. This is a great way to work out the most difficult parts we encounter. Excellent video lesson!

    • Dave Belcher January 17, 2018 at 1:09 am - Reply

      Glad it’s working for you, Mike! Thanks for the nice comment and great to hear from you!

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  7. Lissa January 21, 2018 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you sooo much! I’m working on C. Petzonld’s Minuet, and your insight makes the left hand movements flow. It certainly does make a difference in the musicality of the piece.

    Lissa

    • Dave Belcher January 21, 2018 at 11:21 pm - Reply

      Glad to hear, Lissa! Thanks for the comment and I hope you continue to find spot practice useful for your own practice routines.

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

  8. Ann Andrews January 25, 2018 at 1:21 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing these tips.

  9. giuseppe gasparini February 3, 2018 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Hi Dave, with the written advice too, is very useful to me, thank you

  10. joannes March 28, 2018 at 5:40 am - Reply

    hi Dave,

    Once a while i used spot practice but what is so good about CGC is that you have the info you need available whenever you need to.
    i went over this topic again it reminds me to make it a habit in my practice sessions.
    thanks,

    regards,
    Joannes

    • Dave Belcher March 28, 2018 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      That’s great to hear, Joannes! Glad you’re finding it useful for your practice.

      Peace,

      Dave B (CGC team)

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