David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Drill, Baby, Drill!
Finding the Right Solution
Even when you’re already using efficient practice techniques – like Very Slow Practice, focusing on Tough Stuff, and Breaking Down songs into small chunks – you may feel you need something more to truly master your songs.
What you need are very specific exercises based on the notes, keys, rhythms, and problem areas in your music. These drills give you some relief from the song itself, and they support learning your songs.
If you’re taking lessons, your teacher will often create these short drills for you. However, you’re likely to encounter material between lessons that could benefit from your own creative approach to the notes. So, during your practice sessions, you’ll need to develop the skill of making up these drills yourself.
The first step is to accurately define what the problem is. Then, isolate this problem and create a short pattern that unlocks the difficulty and propels you to success.
5 Effective Drills to Try
To get you started with this process, I’m including five drills as suggestions for you. My hope is that these examples will inspire your creativity so you can develop effective drills of your own. (And, if you’ve created a really good drill, please share it in the Comments below!!)
Here are my five suggestions:
1. Use the Song’s Key
Play scales and arpeggios in the key of the song you’re learning. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to create an “aha moment” when you see exactly what’s been holding you back.
2. Match a Difficult Rhythm to Your Warmups
If you are working on a difficult rhythm, incorporate this rhythm into your scales (including chromatic scales). For instance, run today’s scales and arpeggios using the rhythm. First, play the rhythm on each pitch. Then, go up and down your scale using the rhythm.
3. Isolate a Rhythm
Specific rhythms can also be played on single notes, random notes, or even by tapping your hands on a table. This will free you from the confines of the melody and key while you internalize the rhythm.
4. Break Up Fast Runs
If a run of eighth notes or sixteenth notes is causing difficulty, alter the rhythm to either (a) long, short, long, short or (b) short, long, short, long. This can be just enough of a change to pinpoint the exact notes that need your focus. You’ll force yourself to notice which pitches are easy to play and which are more challenging. Then, you can focus on the challenging parts.
5. Go Backwards
Play a bar or two both frontward and backwards. Playing notes in reverse order gives you a new perspective on moving comfortably from note to note. This is a top practice strategy for solving problems with hitting pitches accurately.
You’ll Save Time
Your drills can be a big time-saver in your practicing. The drills will pull you out of the malaise that can happen when you go over and over one short song section. Drill focus you in on what you’re actually trying to solve.
Drills also can be used effectively as your warm-ups, essentially creating a “two birds with one stone” situation. You’ll be warming up and learning your songs faster! This is especially important if you have a limited amount of practice time each day.
To Your Musical Success!