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Tag Archives: practicing

Visualization in Music Practice

By Nicholas Krolak

visualization in music practice

Let’s do a little experiment. Sit down and close your eyes. Now I want you to think of the hardest piece of music you know. When you are ready, play through that piece in your mind as fast as you can. When you make a mistake, raise your hand and stop. How far did you get? If you are like most people, including myself, you didn’t get very far at all. Possibly a few phrases, but most likely only a couple measures.

This exercise, which was shown to me by the electric bass virtuoso Gerald Veasley, illustrates an intriguing point. Let’s think about this. The mistake that happened, which is a mirror of what happens with your instrument, happened without the instrument being present or you playing it. The mistake actually happened in your mind. 

We often think that when we can’t play a musical passage, it is because we cannot play our instrument, a physical problem. However, this exercise suggests that the problem may not be physical. Rather, an internal block is just as debilitating as an external one.

So what can we do about this?

The answer is visualization. When confronted with a passage that is difficult or has been giving you trouble for a long time. Take some time to sit with your eyes closed, away from your instrument and think your way through the passage. Very slowly at first, and increasingly faster. Try pantomime the movements on your instrument. Then play it on your instrument. 

You will be surprised at how effective this can be. It has been my experience that more often than not one of two things happen. 1) The problem magically disappears or 2) The cause of the problem is revealed. The second outcome is extremely important. It is very easy to be stuck in a blindspot and visualization can help give you a better perspective on the issue. Also, once you are aware of the real problem, you can take steps to fix it.

visualization in music practice

Another great use of visualization is for preparing for a performance.

Before your next performance use visualization as a test to make sure the music you have prepared is ready. If you can think your way through the music you are in good shape. Next, spend some time visualizing yourself at the performance on stage. If you are unfamiliar with the place you are to perform, go there ahead of time. The goal is to make your visualizations as realistic as possible. How will you feel on stage? How bright will the lights be? What will the audience’s applause sound like? How will you feel after the performance?

The technique of visualization is used by many high level performers in a variety of fields. From professional athletes, CEO’s, as well as performing artists. Make no mistake, it is not a substitute for regular and focused practice. Rather, in combination with regular, focused practice, it has the capacity to greatly increase your confidence, skills, and results. 

10 Techniques For Developing A Musical Practice

By Nicholas Krolak

A musician’s performance on stage is a direct expression of the time and energy spent in the practice room. Therefore, having a clear and effective practice strategy is invaluable. Here are a few proven techniques for improving practice outcomes, spending practice time more effectively, and having more fun.

Keyboard metronome practice

1. Block Distractions

Practice begins before you even touch your instrument. Life is full of distractions, but your practice space should be your sanctuary. A place of focus. You will get so much more out of your practice time in an environment that is calm and distraction free (as much as possible).

2. Set Goals

Think of what your goals for that practice day are. Keep them small and completable. There is no need to overwhelm yourself. Practicing one thing thoroughly is always better than practicing ten things superficially. Be sure to write down your daily goals in a practice journal, where you can also record your weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.

3. Visualize

Before playing a piece, scale, or etude, try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself playing it. How does it feel? How does it sound? Now try playing it. Does it match your visualized experience? If not, visualize it again and focus on the difficult parts. Get your mind around it first and your body will follow.

4. Practice Slow

Most music students, including myself, are in a hurry to play a piece at full tempo or beyond. They key to playing fast, is playing slow. Slowing down a piece will reveal all the stumbling blocks and how to get past them. You may have to decrease the tempo many times to fully smooth out a piece, but in the long run it is worth it.

Metronome tempo practice

They key to playing fast, is playing slow.

5. Use a Metronome

A metronome is a great tool to help you develop and strengthen your internal clock. However, most music students either don’t use one, or use it incorrectly. When playing something for the first time it is fine to have the metronome playing all the beats. Once it is a little more comfortable, try muting one beat, then two beats, then three beats. Muting beats forces you to keep track of the time, and the metronome will let you know how successful you were.

6. Use a Drone

A drone is like a metronome for pitch. It gives you instant feedback on your intonation. Set a drone to the tonic pitch of the piece to make sure your intonation stays constant. Observe when it drifts, and bring it back.

7. Focus on the Crux

The crux is the hardest part of a piece of music. It is very common for students to play the parts they know as fast as they can, stumble through the hard part (at a much slower tempo), and call it a day. This is ineffective. It is a better use of time to spend most of your practice time on the hardest part. This is where big gains is musical growth will happen.

8. Chunking

“Chunking” is the process of working on a larger piece by breaking it into chunks. Working chunk by chunk and then working to connect them is much more effective than playing a piece from start to finish every time.

9. Record Yourself

Record your practice sessions and performances and listen back to them periodically. What needs to improve? What are your strengths? Write observations down in your practice journal, and use your insights to set or redesign goals.

10. Have Fun!

Musical practice is one of the most challenging and rewarding pursuits, but can be tedious at times. Whenever, it gets boring, try making a game for yourself or to be played with others. Write your own etude or duet, try playing another instrument, or go see some live music. Keeping it fun will help motivate and stimulate your musical experiences.

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