Shortening Difficult Passages: Segmental (Bar-by-Bar) Practice

A most important learning trick is to choose a short practice segment. This trick has perhaps the largest effect on reducing the practice time because of many reasons. (1) Within any difficult passage of say, 10 bars, there is typically only a few note combinations that stymie you. There is no need to practice anything other than those notes. If there are 10 bars with 8 notes each but there are only 4 difficult notes, then by just practicing those four, you can get to play all 10 bars, greatly cutting down on practice time. Let's revisit the two difficult interruptions in Fur Elise. Examine them and find the most troublesome bars. This may be the first bar or the last five bars of the first interruption, or the final arpeggio in the second interruption. In all difficult segments, it is critically important to observe the finger markings and to make doubly sure that you are comfortable with them. For the last five bars of the first interruption, the difficulty is in the RH where most of the action is in fingers 1 and 5. Finger 2 plays a key role on certain notes, but there is an option of using mostly finger 1. Use of finger 2 is the most conventionally correct way and provides better control and smoother play. However, use of mostly finger 1 is easier to remember, which can be a lifesaver if you haven't played this piece for a while. It is very important that you choose one fingering and stick to it. For the arpeggio in the second interruption, use the fingering 1231354321.... Either thumb under or thumb over (see section III.5) will work because this passage is not overly fast, but I prefer thumb over because the thumb under will require some elbow motion and this extra movement can lead to flubs. (2) Practicing only short segments allows you to practice the same segment dozens, even hundreds of times, in a matter of minutes. Use of these quick, successive repetitions is the fastest way to teach your hand new motions. If the difficult notes are played as part of a longer segment, the longer interval between successive practice and the playing of other notes in between can confuse the hand and cause it to learn much more slowly. This effect is quantitatively calculated in section IV.5, and that calculation provides the basis for the claim in this book that these methods can be 1000 times faster than the intuitive methods. (3) We all know that playing a passage faster than your technique allows is detrimental. However, the shorter a segment you choose, the faster you can practice it without ill effects. Initially, the most common short segment you will choose is one bar or less, often just two notes. By choosing such short segments, you can bring practically any difficult note combination up to speed in just minutes. Therefore, you can practice most of the time at or beyond final speed, which is the ideal situation because it saves so much time. In the intuitive method, you are practicing most of the time at slow speed.