Most of my blog entries focus on helping parents help their young children. And I tend to write on topics that are most useful for developing good playing habits at home. However, I am going to spend sometime focusing on advancing students – students who may be working more independently or who have reached the sophistication to add some more subtle points to their practice routines.

Though many parents and students have heard their teachers (I hope!) remind them to practice difficult parts slowly, most students do little of this because of the problems exposed – mainly, that they don’t know the piece as well as they thought they did. Nevertheless, slowing a passage or a few notes down provides ample time for actively questioning and observing what works and what doesn’t. So here are a few things to try to help develop focus, listening, and control:

Activity 1
1) Find and isolate a difficult passage from a song.
2) Play the first note and listen to it until you can no longer hear it (no buzzing allowed).
3) Imagine or visualize where the next note is, then, as smoothly (not quickly) as possible, place the next note.
4) Play this note and listen to it until you can no longer hear it.
5) Keep going until the passage is complete.

Activity 2
1) Choose a closed position scale (no open strings).
2) Immediately after plucking the first note, slowly relax the active left hand finger until hearing a buzz but don’t lose contact with the string. This is the breaking point at which the pressure of the left hand is too light to create or sustain a resonating note.
3) Continue to the next note and relax the active finger until the breaking point.
4) Complete the scale to acquire a feel for where the breaking point is.
5) Now, repeat the scale in the same fashion but relax the left hand fingers after they pinch to what is perceived as the moment right before the breaking point. In other words, relax the active left hand finger but retain just enough pressure so that the note does not buzz.

Good luck.