When Basketball Players Practice…

Whether you’re a fan of the Golden State Warriors or the Oklahoma City Thunder, the game last night reminded me of something I tell my students all the time: take time to practice the individual parts of a song as often, if not more often, than actually playing the song.

Here’s what I mean:
Those amazing basketball players spend considerable time practicing the individual elements of a game: jump shots, free throws, passing… as separate elements of the game – going through the same motions over and over. Then, they put it all together in a practice game. Then… the real game against the real opposing team. By working on each individual element, they can better analyze their technique and zero in on what works and what doesn’t.

How does this apply to playing and practicing music?

Well, I often notice when people play a song and they come to a difficult part, they skim over it, mutter something about ‘how hard it is, and then get back to the easy part. This is how they practice: start, skip over the challenging part, continue, and move on to another song. And then they will do the same for the next song, etc. All they are doing is rehearsing  how to play a song badly.

I suggest that a player break the song down into separate parts: the intro, verse, chorus… Practice those parts by themselves, making sure you have it sounding right. Is there a chord that is difficult to change to? Then work on just that: try playing the easier chord before the hard one, and the hard one, and back, and repeat. Slowly – four beats each chord – back and forth until you get it. Then do the same with that hard chord and one that follows it. Back and forth – slowly… four beats each chord. Then try just that section of the song slowly…(but in time) over and over… fitting  in that hard part until your fingers get to know what they are supposed to be doing. Then, after you really give that hard part its due attention, try playing the entire song again. And I suggest that you take time to play a song r-e-a-l-l-y …  s-l-o-w  (but evenly and in time) as part of your practice regimen. By playing super slowly, you can then focus on all the little details you often don’t notice (or ignore) when you play fast: the fingers you have to move from one chord to another, the beautiful sound you are making, the lyrics and pitch of your singing… Then you can get back to playing it at “normal” speed.

By focusing on these individual parts of a song, you will be teaching yourself some important lessons and techniques. And when it comes time to play the big game, er… I mean… your song with others – you will be ready and prepared to play that hard part, instead of skipping over it.

As always, I eagerly await your comments and questions. Have you ever thought about working on a song this way? Are you guilty of skipping over the hard parts? Let me know how else I can help you learn to play music.



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