Saturday, August 27, 2005

Practising Backwards

I never quite believe in practising backwards in order to memorise the piece of music better. It's just detrimental to the musicality of the piece and I find that it's too high a price to pay in order to memorise the piece of music. And I'm really surprised that even professional musicians advocate this method in order to aid memory.

I can never find much sense in practising backwards. You can't grasp the flow of the music. One just start practising the last page or section of the music and more often than not, you start in the middle of a phrase and that is the worst feeling ever. What comes out eventually is nonsensical and meaningless. Even if you separate the piece in a way such that whatever section you play starts on the beginning of a phrase, it is still pretty much as bad because you can't shape the phrase well without knowing the introduction before it and how the phrase fits into the whole picture. Eventually, even if you manage to go through the whole piece, chances are that some sections will stick out like a sore thumb as the piece of music has lost its flow.

Anyways, I lost the connection to quite a number of recordings out there. They don't affect me as much as they used to. Maybe I'm becoming increasingly critical and having higher expectations. Yes, and that also means that I'm getting more nitpicky in the minor details of my music, not to mention that there's still this intonation problem I have. Oh well, practices have become quite a torture. How I wish that I have a better guitar to practise on...


Hucbald said...

Yeah, I'm in agreement with you on that. Practicing backwards is a regretable gimmic, and it's really worthless. The very best practice technique for getting guitar pieces what I call "mindlessly solid" (Meaning, they just play themselves if you happen to get distracted, which happens at resteraunt/coffeehouse gigs all the time) is slow-practicing with a metronome (Forwards, of course).

What I do is start out with the metronome just a little faster than the mean tempo I usually perform the piece at - let's say 120 bpm for this example - and slow the beat down 10 bpm each time through the piece until you get it down to half speed. So, playing from 120 bpm to 60 bpm will take you through the piece 7 times as you slow it down. Then, reverse the process until you have it back to 120 bpm. This gives a total of 13 times through the piece. Add one time "free" of the metronome at the beginning and the end, and that's 15 times through the piece.

I have never found any technical practice technique that even comes close to this for effectiveness: It builds strength, deeply memorizes the piece, and working at very slow tempos allows you to fine tune the minutest details of your finger coreography for both the left AND right hands.

I don't really consider a piece fully at my command until I have done this with it at least three times. Over the course of a year, I usually manage to do this with every single piece in my repertoire at least once or twice.

solitudex said...

Woah, I'm wary of using the metronome excessively, but you've gotten some interesting points there. I'll just probably use it when I practise on a new piece to force myself to sight read through the whole piece of music repeatedly until I manage to get the whole piece out at a relatively fluent level, getting the flow and feel of the piece of music at the same time. Then I'll throw out the metronome and practise without it. =)

Hucbald said...

I memorize everything. No way I would ever have sheet music on stage with me. For me it not only ruins my communication with the audience, but it destroys my interpretation of the piece. I have never understood why in the world anybody would want to be reading music on stage. Seriously: I just don't get it at all. I mean, I play with my eyes closed a lot of the time.

Anyway, once you have done the formula I described with a piece two or three times, you no longer have to put that much into it. If I've been performing a piece for a few months or more, when it comes up in the rotation I'll just play it at 120, 100, 80, and 60 and leave it at that.

I probably only metronome 3-5 pieces a week, but it sure does keep me solid.

Metronome work is the only technique practice I do anymore. I haven't played a scale in eons: I learned all those when I was a kid. I'm a big believer in not practicing anything but music. My motto is:

"if it's not worth performing, it's not worth practicing."