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  • Writer's pictureManuel Diewald

Practicing is a Problem-Solving Task

My name is Manuel Diewald and I am a Sydney-based guitar teacher in West Pennant Hills with a B.Mus. (Hons) (First) in Music Pedagogy from The University of New South Wales (UNSW).

When learning any instrument, most of our practice is done away from our teacher, either with a parent or on our own as we get older and become more advanced and independent. That is why it is really important to understand that practicing is all about problem-solving. It is likely that issues will arise in our practice that was not addressed at our lesson and so we can either wait for our next lesson to ask our teacher about it, or we can try to come up with a solution. You may wonder then how important a teacher is then. A teacher is there to provide you with a set of skills to one day enable you to be independent in your own learning though this takes time and so a teacher is really important to your musical development.

Coming up with a solution is not all that easy and requires practice strategies to give us a wide variety of solutions to our problematic sections in a piece of music. The more practice strategies we know the better chance we have of learning a piece to performance standards. This does not mean that it has to be perfect in the sense that you play every note, it just means that you are able to perform the piece, whether that is just for yourself, in front of friends and family, or in a concert, in a way that allows you to portray the emotions and musical thought that was intended.

I won't go through every single practice strategy though I will write down a handful to give you an idea:

  • Practicing slow

  • Using a metronome

  • Play only the melody

  • Play only the bass line

  • Find the trickiest bars or sections and work on them separately and then slowly work outwards going from the bar before and then playing into the bar after and expanding outwards around that tricky bar or section (This could be condensed down to two beats within a bar, for example, practicing a chord change or a shift or jump to another position)

  • If there is a scale run, incorporate it into your warm-up for extra practice

  • Simplify the rhythm

  • Work on the left hand only

  • Work on the right hand only

  • If there are any extended techniques, such as slurs, glissandos, staccatos, etc..., find those sections and incorporate them into your warm-up and find other exercises to help strengthen those skills.

The main message I want to bring across in this blog is that practicing and playing your pieces or songs are two different things. Playing a piece is the result of practicing. There is no hidden secret to practicing an instrument and most of the time there are simple solutions (there are trickier ones too) and so altering the way we think about practicing, being a problem-solving task, can start to help us approach our own practice differently. If you find that you are having a problem with a part of the piece, make sure you address and identify that problem straight away and do not just continue to play through, or else we start practicing in those mistakes. Try to simplify what you are playing by working on a smaller section such as a bar or even two beats of a bar and work out what the issue may be. Is it the rhythm, the notes, the left-hand position, a particular finger on the left-hand, the right-hand, a particular finger on the right-hand? Start asking yourself questions and don't be upset if you can not figure it out, that is why you have a teacher. If you begin to think about practicing differently and try to apply these strategies to your practice, you will find that the skill of problem-solving will keep getting better.

There is a saying 'practice makes perfect' though this is not true in my opinion... Practice makes permanent! Whatever you practice, will become a habit, so let's instil good habits.

Thanks for reading this short blog. This topic is of course something I can not cover in a blog and so please keep in mind that this is only a broad overview of this topic. I did write my thesis that was based around this subject and so if you would like to read it, please email me and I will happily send you a copy.

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