Practice Makes Perfect!
by Frances Clark Clavier Magazine

According to Frances Clark, whether 'practice makes perfect' or not depends on the quality of the practice, and the quality of the practice depends largely on the practice habits the student has formed and is forming.

There are many mistaken notions about what constitutes practice. For example, students often think they are practicing when they play a passage, stopping to correct mistakes four or five times; then, on the next day, two or three times, and so on, until they finally play the passage without a mistake. The student who 'practices' this way has not formed the habit of playing the passage correctly, however, only the habit of making fewer mistakes each successive day. The playing has improved, of course, but the practice habit is to make mistakes (and correct them).

Of course less wrong is a step forward; but the force of habit is worthy of our utmost respect. The time to build the habit of playing a passage accurately is when a problem has been solved and a passage has been played correctly. One definition of good practice is 'the purposeful repetition of accuracy.' In the purposeful repetition of accuracy, the habit of playing the passage correctly overcomes the habit of making fewer mistakes each day.

Clark gives what she considers her best solution for solving problem spots or insecure passages. It is playing a passage three times perfectly in succession. Once this has been completed it may be put back into the context of the spot, that is, the lead up to and exit from the problem spot. It is often the transition to and from the spot that causes the problem.

With elementary and intermediate students, he recommends limiting its use to short passages or problem spots that are no more than two to four measures in length. He also recommends assigning it for home practice only after it has been experienced successfully at the lesson.

This is just one of many techniques that can help form good habits and insure that 'practice does make perfect.' The very best practice is that in which the very first reading of a new piece or passage is both accurate and musical. This sounds like an impossible idea, but students can accomplish it if they carefully follow these three steps.

(1) Plan. Instead of jumping right into a stumbling, trial and error reading, plan what and how to practice. Analyze the piece for parts that are alike and different, mark the form, circle the parts that are similar, but where slight differences occur, noting carefully what those differences are. Practice the rhythm (point and count, tap and count, and so on until the rhythm is completely secure), and practice the technique silently. Block the chord changes or trace the melodic route until the topography of the piece is completely secure).

(2) Play and count out loud at a tempo so slow that there is no possibility of a wrong note or even the slightest hesitation. Despite the slow tempo, this reading must have musical meaning as well as accuracy.

(3) Repeat the slow, secure reading until it feels completely natural and comfortable, then gradually increase the tempo.

I think these are extremely valuable teaching points that can be implemented in the lessons in order to develop good practice habits that the students will use at home. t that leads to a lifelong love of music."