When many musicians practice, they go about it the same way they listen to music.  That is, they start working on a song at the beginning and run through the music until they get to the end.

Then, the entire process starts over.  The musician goes back to the beginning and plays through to the end, perhaps making some corrections along the way.

I call this method of practicing the “Top to Bottom” Method.  It looks like this:

Start at the Top.  End at the Bottom.  Repeat.
Start at the Top.  End at the Bottom.  Repeat.
Start at the Top.  End at the Bottom.  Repeat.
Start at the Top.  End at the Bottom.  Repeat.

This seems like a logical way to work through your music.  It feels right to start at the top.  It feels good to get to the end.  You feel like real progress is happening and that your practicing directly reflects what you will do when you perform the music sometime in the future.

Unfortunately, effective practicing very seldom resembles performing music.

Instead, your practicing needs to focus on specific areas:

1.  Technique and Basic Fundamentals:  Working on scales, arpeggios, long tones, dynamics, intonation (playing in tune), breath control, positioning, posture, and all the other basics will form the strong foundation needed to perform any music.  Make sure you work on the Basics at every practice session.

2.  Tough Stuff:  These are the specific sections of your music that seem too high, too hard, too fast, or just impossible to play right now.  Rather than playing through your music top to bottom and making corrections along the way, just focus in on the small areas that actually need your attention.

3.  Slow Practice:  When working on both Basics and Tough Stuff, you’ll need to play VERY slowly to make sure you’re doing everything correctly.  You are teaching your muscles to play accurately.  Don’t teach them to play mistakes!

When these three areas have been completed, then you might be ready to go through your music from the beginning to the end.  This will be like a performance in your practice room but with one difference:

Do this performance at a slow tempo so that you have complete control over all the notes.  Don’t worry about playing at the real performance tempo.  Take it slow and be successful!

The majority of your time in the practice room will be spent working on technique and working through the obstacles that are stopping you from playing all the notes in your music accurately.

Only a small percentage of time should be spent doing performance run-throughs.

Understanding the difference between practicing and performing is crucial to your musical success.

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