This is the first of many posts on practice methods and ways to learn music. The goal is for this page to be a resource with different practice ideas, so you can skim through posts and find different techniques to help improve different aspects of playing. For this first post lets talk about a simple yet very effective practice method I call the Two Note Drill. It is pretty self explanatory, and can be used in a variety of different ways. The TND is great for any ability level whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran. I first used this drill when teaching beginners, but now use it myself with very positive results!
The general idea is that when learning a piece or passage, you start at the beginning and play only the first two notes. If you are rock solid move on. By rock solid I mean it has to have the sound (I usually go for a sound imitating my favorite recording of the opening of Pictures at an Exhibition), articulation, rhythm, intonation, dynamic, and direction (go to the second note or come away from the first?) that you intend. All of these aspects must be thought out before you play, otherwise how will you know if you nailed it or not?! It is a lot to think about at first, but the devil is in the detail, and with little work most anyone can play two notes in a row darn near perfectly.
If the two notes are not as clean as you want them, buzz, sing, and play them (a later post will cover many different ways to solidify intervals). When you move on, the second note you played is now your new starting note. To make matters simple lets take a C major scale. Play C to D. If it is good, play D to E, then E to F, and so on.
As I mentioned before, this is a simple method, but can be applied to a beginner learning a C major scale, or an expert learning the Henze Sonatina! Keep in mind that this is just one way to aid in hearing and centering every interval in a piece, and the idea is best used in the practice room rather than performing. You rarely want to only think of two note groups when playing music, especially on faster, technical pieces, but when starting to learn those difficult pieces, the TND will build a sturdy foundation much more efficiently than simply (and mindlessly) running the hard licks over and over.
If you are ever having trouble hitting the bullseye on all your notes but can't seem to figure out where you first get out of the "zone", start at the beginning of the piece or passage using the TND and wherever you run into problems is a good indicator of where you need to work! You will be surprised how much work you can get done on difficult repertoire with just 5 or 10 minutes of this exercise. To spice it up, also try these!
- TND singing (checking with the piano AFTER you sing it)
- TND Buzzing (with both slurred glissandos and articulation)
- Three Note Drill, Four Note Drill, etc...
Thanks for reading, and comment below if you found this to be effective!