Bentz Music Studio

Practice for Advanced Students

Saturday, August 4, 2018 by Andrea Bentz | Practice

Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.,  author of The Bulletproof Musician blog, writes about practice and performance concepts for more advanced students and musicians. His goal is effective, efficient practice and confident performances. 

His advice? Don't  practice rather mindlessly, meaning always going for a certain number of repetitions, or playing until you hit a stumbling block, working on the tough spot, and moving on. This causes problems:

1. It wastes time More can be accomplished with a focused effort of small goals (maybe improving just one measure!) and active listening. Mindless practice usually reinforces bad habits. 

2. It makes you less confident  We don't know exactly why we keep missing that one note in the middle of the passage because we haven't stopped to analyze it. "We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously — not a great formula for success." 

3. It is tedious and boring  "What we really need are more specific outcome goals — such as, practice this passage until it sounds like _____, or practice this passage until you can figure out how to make it sound like _____."

 What are some ways to stay productive in a practice session?  Kageyama suggests students try the following:

1. Duration

Monitor when your focus starts to drop. This may be 10 minutes, it may be 45 minutes. Step away when you start to lose your focus, do something else, then come back to the practice session. You will accomplish more in less time at the keyboard. Research has found that more effective learning consists of reviewing a small section of music about three times, then moving on to 2-3 more small sections (each maybe only a measure or two) and working on these sections about three times before circling back to the first section again. Try this method - it should help keep your mind focused. 

2. Timing

When do you have the most energy during your free time? This may be the best time to fit in a 20 minute session. When do you really wish you could sit down and express yourself at the keyboard? This might be a great time to play through a completed favorite piece, then tackle one tough problem in a new piece.

3. Goals

Have clear goals for each week, broken down into practice session goals. Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. This will help you be mindful of your practice and remember what works and doesn't work. A more advanced student learns so much over the course of a month or two that they will need a record for referral.

4. Smarter, not harder

Intense practice is usually good, but ".. There are also times... when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique." Step away from your practice and think over the problem. Is there a practice technique you have learned in the past which you might be able to apply to this situation? Could you find a good online performance of your piece that might give you new insight? You might want to skip practice of this section altogether as you think about a new practice approach. When you have some new ideas, go back to the section and experiment.

5. Record Yourself

It is difficult to hear every nuance of your playing as you work through rhythms, hand positions, and more. A recording will give a student several new ideas about ways to improve. If there is no way to hold the phone for a picture, just set down the phone and record the sound. Play back while you follow your music and be your own judge. Write down measures you want to improve and work through them one or a few at a time during upcoming practice sessions.

In summary, advanced musicianship requires a depth of focus only possible for more mature students. Your life experience, maturity and discipline are a great advantage as you tackle more complicated pieces. One of Kageyama's favorite practice quotes is from Master violin teacher Leopold Auer:   “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.”. My students are not at a university or professional level - yet! I might change the quote to say: "Practice with your mind and you will accomplish your weekly goals in much less time, with less frustration, and a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment".

All quotes from :     

The Younger Students' Secret Practice Weapon

Wednesday, August 1, 2018 by Andrea Bentz | Practice

Found a great teacher? Check. Have a good quality instrument for practice? Check. Now it's time to engage the secret weapon--an encouraging parent! There are four ways to encourage your student, and none of them has anything to do with how much you know about music!

  • Be sure the practice instrument is located where it is easy to find time to practice. I know many families only have a great room (family room) for a keyboard or piano. That is a good location - right where everybody can appreciate the effort the student is making - but it can conflict with other family needs. Let your child know that the entire family values their practice time by clearing the space of distraction.
  • Ensure that the keyboard or piano is at the correct height, with a firm bench at the correct height. Keyboards and benches are made with respect to the best position of the human body, and it is necessary to respect needs for correct position. A smaller child may need to sit on a flat cushion to bring their body to the correct hieight. I often use garderner's kneeler pads as they are flat, firm, and easy to handle. Small children should also have a footstool under their feet.
  • Encourage, encourage, encourage! A student will make mistakes on new music, and it will be easy for you to hear them. However, the most important words they can hear are supportive: tell them you can hear progress; you are so proud of what they are learning; how nice it is to hear music in your home. Before you know it, your student will be playing beautifully!
  • Get your student to each lesson on time, ready to play. The teacher will have a complete lesson planned for the available time. She can handle an active child who needs changes in activity; a shy child who is reluctant to play, or any of a number of characteristics. A child who misses all or part of a lesson will not be able to move ahead and will get discouraged. 

Study after study shows the impact of a parent on musicians' success. You are the ultimate secret weapon!

What about Memorizing?

Friday, August 5, 2016 by Andrea Bentz | Memorizing

Memorizing music is not as common as it once was, yet there are still some wonderful benefits to memorizing a special piece of music. Perhaps the most important benefit is knowing the music so well that the musician is really comfortable with it, able to play with few or no mistakes and able to draw out beautiful expression in the music as they play. The mental discipline of memorization benefits students academically, also. There are several ways to approach memorizing music to make it more certain it will be available for recall when needed. Here are a few methods to memorization, paraphrased from several blog entries on The Bulletproof Musician:

1. Try memorizing a piece from the start – when you first start learning it.

Called retrieval practice, efforts to play from memory are begun as the music is first presented to the student.

2. Menta lpractice can help

Auditory imagery – or being able to hear the music "in your head" should be a foundation on which memory rests.

Analysis – figuring out the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic structure of the piece is another important aspect of mental practice.

Listening to a recording can help– once again, to support the development of the inner soundtrack of the music in your head.

3. Deliberate Memorization (also called Content Addressable Access)

This is embedding little retrieval cues (or “performance cues”) throughout the piece. Little written reminders about phrasing, dynamics, character, articulation, musical structure, and more and put directly on the page. These things aren’t necessarily related to memorizing notes, but nevertheless comprise a “mental script” of little details to focus on as you make your way through the piece. Reminders to keep you on-task, ensure that you bring out every nuance and detail, and don’t just cruise by on autopilot.

The student is encouraged to markup a blank copy of the score with arrows and colored pen, so as to begin coming up with specific “cues” to pay attention to while practicing. Generally, four types of categories were marked:

Basic technique (e.g. positioning of her hands, the notes)

Musical structure (e.g. phrasing)
Interpretation (e.g. dynamics)
Expression (e.g. the mood or character hewanted to convey)

Taken together, these four types of cues add additional layers of information to the music, kind of like landmarks that let us know if we’re on the right path or not, and help us get back on track if we start to lose our way. It definitely takes time, but there is a good payoff!

4. Overlearning

While overlearning seems to be a good thing, it’s not so clear how much overlearning is best. More seems to be better, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Besides, overlearning for the sake of overlearning can lead to mindless,ineffective practice, and do more harm than good. If a passage is particularly difficult to memorize, the suggestion is to play it 50% more times than it took to master it. Yes, if you are an advanced student, that could be a lot of repetition!

5.Evening/Morning Learning

A recent study showed better retention of material if the student studied in the evening before bed, then reviewed the material in the morning. (This was not a music memorization study, but did involve memorizing.) Perhaps the most efficient way to memorize is with a short session in the evening followed by another short session in the morning.


Just a few of the ways memorization can be approached! Any student who undertakes memorization of a special piece will find reward in better mastery of the music.