David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Two Essential Focusing Strategies
Focus is the Key to Success
Intense focus is the key to making real progress in the practice room.
With focus, musicians make great leaps forward in their abilities. Without focus, many musicians flounder.
Two Important Focusing Techniques
The two focusing strategies we’re looking at today are simple in concept. The good news is they will give you amazing results. The less-than-good news is you need to start using these strategies permanently – not just today!!
1. Zero in on the Real Issue
You’ll need to zero in on the exact issue that is making a specific set of notes difficult to learn, master, and/or perform. Being vague won’t help you!
For example, the move from one note to another may be the difficulty. Or, maybe it’s the rhythmic placement of just a couple of notes that’s causing the damage.
In both of these cases, there is no reason to practice the entire song section over and over, hoping that the problem will fix itself. Instead, work on just the specific area that needs your attention.–and play it very slowly, accurately, and deliberately.
Once your attention is focused on the exact location that you need to master, practice very slowly, accurately, and deliberately. It’s at this very point that you’ll be starting the process of building a new, successful muscle memory.
This technique will make an enormous difference in your ability to perform the entire phrase those two notes
are a part of. Your intense focus will fix the problem and, as I mentioned before, create a muscle memory that will keep you going when you perform the song.
2. Think About One Thing at a Time
Another great way to make big gains in the practice room is by focusing on only one aspect of music at a time. I’m talking about the basic music elements: Pitch, Rhythm, Dynamics, Articulations, Phrasing, Timbre.
You can work on a rhythm without paying attention to pitch. Or you can make sure you’re hitting the right pitches without thinking about rhythm.
You can also do a slow runthrough hyper-focuing on your dynamics. Decide exactly when you want to be soft, medium, or loud. Figure out when to grow in strength (crescendo) or taper off your volume (decrescendo or diminuendo).
Another aspect of music to focus in on is tone production. Is your sound big and full? Light and airy? Are you attacking your notes sharply? Caressing the beginning of each note so it just appears from nowhere? Focusing on each of these ways to produce notes will totally change how you sound!
The same idea can be used with your technique. Try thinking about very specific aspects of your physical technique. Depending on what instrument you play or what type of singing you do, you may want to focus in on any of these: (1) only your left hand, (2) only your right hand, (3) your embouchure, (4) your breathing, (5) the position of your neck and shoulders, (6) your overall posture, (7) your knuckles, (8) your balance, (9) your weight distribution (important whether you stand or sit as you perform), and (10) tension in specific muscles.
Any physical attribute of your performing technique can become your target. Just be careful about one thing: Think about just one musical element at a time!
Combining Focusing Strategies
Both of these approaches will help you concentrate your efforts. And, once you’ve gotten used to using these strategies regularly, they can be combined.
For instance, while you’re fixing a specific note or two, you may need to think about the exact muscle pressure you’ll need to make those notes sound just right.
Putting specific notes, musical elements, and your technique under the microscope through intense focus is a tremendous way to fix subtle musical issues and propel your music to new heights. It’s all about Focus, Focus, Focus.
To Your Musical Success!
p.s. If you’re looking for additional ideas for improving your focus, check out my blog post How to Focus Intensely in 6 Steps.