April 20, 2024
How to practice - The 'by-line method'
Practice efficiently is the key to being successfully.  Many students make the same mistakes which leads to a long and frustrating path for learning any repertoire.  The goal of learning any piece can be broken down into two main stages.

Stage 1

Learning the piece. From day of learning any piece the goals are very objective.  
  • Learn the notes
  • Commit to memory
  • Get the work up to tempo

Stage 2

Perfecting the piece.  It's this goal that most of us strive to achieve. It's the fun part of playing and can often be more subjective.
  • Working on musicality
  • Woking on consistency
  • Getting ready to perform

It's this first stage that most people tend to waste time. The goal here is get the work into your kinesthetic memory as quickly as possible.  Most students try to memorize to soon and practice in small 'chunks'.  This is probably the worst technique to use. Remember kinesthetic memory is based on repetition and repetition takes time.  Also the brain will create a much stronger muscle memory if you vary your method of practicing up and not use the same routine each day.

The 'by-line' method
I've developed a method practicing that allows a student to learn most works within one to two weeks.  Here are the steps:
  1. Begin each day with a read through.  Play the work down. The goal is not to play the piece well but to get a rough idea of how things go. Think of it as an overview. Also doing this regularly with each new piece will help improve your sight reading skills.
  2. Each day begins by adding a page to your routine.  The first step with each new page is to divide it up into lines. First you'll need to figure out how fast you can play the line with no mistakes. This is based on simple trial and error.  Try not to look down ( if you playing keyboard ).  A typical tempo would be sixteenth note equals 60. Once you find the temp pencil it in the top corner of the music.
  3. As you're playing through the piece start noticing trouble spots and come with stickings to solve it.  It is very important to base this on the 'goal' tempo not practice tempo.  Try different option ( be creative ).  You can usually work up a spot with a few notes to goal tempo.  Once you have decided the tempo pencil it in! Don't think you'll remember it.  Repetition is key here and you want to make sure you practice the same way each time.
  4. The key to any practice routine is repetition, but not repetition for the things you don't want.  Most students will practice a work using the same chunks each day. This reinforces stopping in the same place which will lead to mistakes.
  5. So once you have the stickings figured out play the line 3 times with NO mistakes.  The goal for each day is to cover a page so you'll play each line 3 times at your practice until you've finished the page.
  6. With each day you'll add the next page of the piece and rotate either tempo or duration with the page already completed starting with duration.

So here's what a typical routine would look like. Using Bach's Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita No. 3 in E major. I've broken this down into a daily routine.

Day 1

1. First pay the entire piece down from beginning to end.  Remember don't worry about mistakes or playing it in tempo.
2. Once you done that then begin with page 1. Figure out what tempo you can play it with no mistakes. Make sure and have a metronome on while you play. Play by line ( as shown below ) with no mistakes. Do it 3 times.

Day 2

1. Again start with your read through
2. Start with page 1. You will start alternating tempo and duration. Start with duration. Same rules as previous day but now two lines at the same tempo.

3. With page 2 you'll start with the same process.

Day 3

1. Read through!
2. Start with page 1. Keep the same length and increase the tempo by 5 - 10 clicks of the  metronome

3. Page 2 by two lines

Day 4 

 1. Read through! 
 2. Page 1. 3 lines at a time

3. Page 2. add 5 - 10 clicks to metronome

Day 5

1. Read through! 
2. Page 1. 5 - 10 clicks faster

3. Page 2. 3 lines at a time

Day 6

1. Read through!
2. Page 1. 4 lines

3. Page 2.  5 - 10 clicks faster

Day 7

1. Read through!
2. Page 1. 5 - 10 clicks faster

3. Page 2. 4 lines at a time

Continue with this same idea until the pages begin to merge. If you find the process not difficult then double the daily step up ( ex. Step 1 would be in the morning and Step 2 evening ). Most marimba works are from 2 - 6 pages long. With the this system of learning you should be able to work any marimba piece up in 1 - 2 weeks.

Once the work is learned then you can discontinue this process and start the next phase - musicality and consistency.
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