Problem solving and identifying the solution are also important steps. Without those, you won’t know what to reinforce and the repetitions will be meaningless.
Once you’ve decided on the solution, it’s time to reinforce that solution, and that’s where the “Three Times in a Row” comes in. I’m now looking for consistency in how I play the passage that I’m having a problem with. Doing it once doesn’t give me consistency, it only confirms the fact that the solution works. Doing twice only gives me a 50/50 chance at getting it right. However doing the same task three times in a row, one after another, ensures that not only am I able to play it correctly but that I’m reinforcing the solution that I’ve decided upon. Between every repetition you have to ask questions and evaluate yourself. Make sure that physically you are playing the same way and mentally focusing on what you need to to play it successfully.
Often times, students find the first and second repetitions really easy to obtain, but mysteriously the third repetition is the hardest. I have a few theories as to why this happens:
- Lack of focus or becoming bored with the task. When most students loose their focus, it’s usually due to the fact that they are becoming bored with the task at hand.
- It takes a lot of mental focus to do something the same way 3 times in a row.
- You have to understand why it worked in the first place. Stop, think about what you just played and what was different about it that allowed it to work. Trying to recreate that is difficult.
- By the 3rd repetition their mind has already wandered, typically because they didn’t reset between repetitions.
The easiest way make sure that you get multiple repetition of the same quality and caliber is to stop between everyone one and critique what you just played. This allows you to reinforce not only the moves, but understanding and focusing on what you need to successfully perform them. Whether it is correcting a note or rhythm, changing a left or right hand fingering, deciding on your musical interpretation, etc… this method allows clear signals to be reinforced both mentally and physically. This avoids confusion and thus mistakes that can occur from being confused. With that said, it takes a lot of self-discipline. I give students the following guidelines to follow as they try to put this system to use:
- Before you play, first go over the musical passage mentally, taking note of anything that you need to remember while playing. If needed, put a small mark in the score to bring you mind to focus on that issue when the passage arises.
- Never play back to back without stopping. Remember ALWAYS have a reason to repeat something. If you want to make it better, first come up with a solution that can potentially make the passage or section improve. If you want to see if you can do it again, first go over what you did that allowed you to successfully perform it, then stay focused on that while you perform it again.
- Ask questions, but most importantly look for answers. Don’t worry about right or wrong, the act of looking is enough to help.
- Once you feel that your solution is solid, and you want to work for consistency, give yourself a set number to tries to perform the passage 3 times in a row. Typically I limit myself to 2 or 3 tries before I move on. I know that the next day I can work towards it again. The fact that I’m reinforcing not only the solution, but the mental focus needed to play it correct will carry through and help develop the section.
- If a mistake is made, stop and start over. If the same mistake happens a second time, this is a signal that it’s a problem area that you haven’t looked at.
While most of this are general rules and guidelines, they help a lot in focusing you practice sessions to help increase productivity. It takes time to fully implement this into your practicing, however when you are able to, you should notice a large increase in you consistency and a general improvement on what you’ve been working on. Good luck, and happy practicing!