We’ve probably all come up against difficulties in a piece where our fingers seem to baulk – we hesitate, stumble, or approximate the notes with a mañana attitude to fixing them. Our unconscious thoughts go something like: “All I need is a few days, it’ll sort itself out eventually”, or “I’ll wait for my teacher to correct it in the lesson”, and so on. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and unless we address these problem passages thoroughly they are likely to let us down in performance.
We all know that in a performance we commit to playing from the beginning of a piece to the end, with no stops or corrections. However, unless we are practising a non-stop run-through of a finished piece, we will likely need to stop regularly in our practice. And not only to make corrections, but to go through certain practice procedures that make our end result technically strong and secure.
The solution: quarantining
The concept of quarantining is firstly to identify as precisely as possible where the problem spots in our piece are, and why they might be occurring. We mark these quarantine spots (or Q-spots for short) in on our score, perhaps using a square bracket, and begin our practice session by doing some proper work on these spots using the practice tools, as opposed to just playing them through a few times. We could even devote a separate practice session to the Q-spots from all of our pieces.
Rather than rummaging through our scores, it is a good plan to take photos of the bars in question and insert them into a slideshow. That way, we can practise from a tablet and swipe through until we have covered them all. If the slideshow is also on your phone, you might use idle moments during the day to do some mental practice away from the piano to supplement your time at the piano.
The idea is that by isolating and focussing on areas of weakness (the Q-spots) within a given piece and applying appropriate practice tools for several days in a row, we can bring these spots up to the level of the rest of the piece so that the whole is more fluent and secure.
The Q-spots series
This series takes the concept introduced in my eBooks and Practice Tools Lecture Series and explores it in more detail in a practical manner using two or three Q-spots from ten familiar pieces of varying levels. Each Q-spot is covered with a series of exhaustive practice stages based on the practice tools. These stages are presented in score form with instructions for practice and with the exercises and practice stages written out in full. The practice stages are also demonstrated in a video walkthrough for each piece. Once you have gone through a few pieces like this, you will be able to apply the principles to other pieces and soon it will become second nature to practise in this way.
In this introductory video, I identify a single Q-spot from Kabalevsky’s Etude in A minor from the Op. 27 set of pieces. This is a great piece for the lower intermediate student, excellent for technical development and extremely effective in performance. While most of the study is very much pattern-based and not overly complex to learn, there are two bars that will need to be extracted and practised very carefully. You will find here a demonstration of the practice stages I recommend.
The following works are currently featured in the Q-spot series (additional works by composers including Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy and Schubert will be added on an ongoing basis):
- Beethoven - Für Elise
- Bach - Invention in D Minor No. 4 (BWV 775)
- Jacques Ibert - The Little White Donkey
- Schumann - Knight Rupert
Resources & links
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