Eat Your Vegetables – Review Your Music!

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Do you review your music as a regular part of your practice, or a “maybe if I get around to it” part?

review

Do you review your music as a regular part of your practice, or a “maybe if I get around to it” part?

My totally non-scientific guess is that 9 out of 10 music students don’t include regular and systematic review of their past repertoire in their practice.

It’s natural for review to get regulated to the time we have left over in our daily practice. We only have a limited amount of practice time and we need to use it to meet our musical deadlines and goals. Review seems like a luxury.

I have seen, however, that not including review in your daily practice is like not eating your vegetables. Your health and your growth will be affected, possibly not in immediate or obvious ways, but in ways that will keep you from reaching your full potential.

Our progress as musicians isn’t just a path forward into more challenging music. The path to growth also circles back on itself to allow for mastery to happen, to allow us to play instead of just practice, to allow us to make music that we can enjoy.

Here is my challenge question for you: if I could give you three reasons that you should be reviewing your music and a few ways you could actually work review into your schedule, would you do it?

Reason for Review 1: Repertoire

Review is a must for developing and maintaining your repertoire. If you’re the type who never has anything to play despite a music stand full of music, then this is a no-brainer reason for you to review.

Choose some music you learned and played in the past and spend some practice time bringing it back into shape. Then keep it in shape with regular review.

Even if you only keep a piece or two ready for when company comes over, you’ll feel much more accomplished knowing you can sit down and play something when you are asked.

Reason for Review 2: Room for Mastery

This is the most overlooked benefit of review. Simply learning a piece to a completion point, perhaps performing it and then putting it in the drawer doesn’t lead to mastery. When you play a piece often over a long period of time, it becomes familiar and terror (and error!) free. You can play it with ease and expression.

Another fact about mastery – the skills you need to take a piece to mastery are different from the skills you use just to learn a piece and play it well. The skills are less about error correction and more about continuity, pacing, flow and musical vision. While you are still struggling with the notes, you can’t work on these loftier aspects. Reviewing a piece is the perfect time to develop those particular skills.

Reason for Review 3: Reconnect

Reviewing your music lets you reconnect. It’s easy to become so involved in practice and lessons and goals and performances that the reason we play music – because we love it – gets forgotten.

Imagine how much fun it would be to spend part of a leisurely afternoon playing through a stack of your favorite music without having to worry about mistakes or technique, just playing for the fun of it.

Personally, I find I gain energy from this kind of review. I love finding a space of time where I can just sit and play, reviewing favorite pieces I played long ago. And later I can approach my practice with a fresh outlook and renewed momentum.

How to Include Review in Your Practice

Daily review can be easily included in your practice if you use a review piece as your warm-up. It’s a gentle way to call your mind to focus on your practice as you limber up your hands and fingers. Alternatively, you could save a review piece for your “practice dessert,” to play at the conclusion of your practice. Have a selection of review pieces that you can use in rotation.

You could have a once-a-week review session. On that day you don’t do regular practice. Instead you spend the same amount of time you would normally practice reviewing your repertoire. This is an excellent way to keep gig or recital repertoire fresh and ready at a moment’s notice.

Speaking of gigs, those background music jobs were one way I used to keep my repertoire in my fingers. There is nothing like a three hour reception for playing through music that you want to review. Most of the time the event is loud enough that no one will hear your mistakes. It’s a perfect way to get paid to practice!

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  • Nancy saunders

    This is a very helpful post, Anne. I am considering doing only review for a while—to take a Break from the sense of always climbing up a mountain as a learn new music. Nancy S.

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  • Sherrilyn Harman

    Some days I am so discouraged with my practice that I give it up and go back to music I have loved in the past. I just play. Sometimes I do some sight-reading just for fun, as well. I’m often on the lookout for new music and sometimes I just go to an old book from my beginning lessons and sight-read something I’ve never played. It brings back the joy I had lost while bogged down in practice.

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  • Kathie Reid

    These are excellent points, Anne. My favourite reason to review old pieces is that they remind me how far I’ve come!

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  • Carol

    Thank you Anne! I agree with the other comments and will take these suggestions to heart and action!

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  • Sonya

    playing the old pieces and seeing how you’ve improved does help but I’m getting to where I’d rather practice the exercises and etudes than play the intermediate repertoire. I’m the same way in golf ; I would hit balls rather than play!

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