This ‘Learn Music Faster’ series of posts highlights things my best students do that contributes towards their success. There are no secret formulae or magic tricks. Learning to play well still requires hard work, dedication and above all, practice. However, my students who do these things seem to improve quicker than the others.
Whenever you start playing, always make sure you count yourself in. This should usually be at least one bar in the time signature you are about to play. Do this every time you have stopped and are about to start again, for whatever reason. It doesn’t have to be out loud but it should be even and in time.
This applies to playing whole pieces, small sections, riffs, phrases, scales, arpeggios, sight reading exercises, anything at all you might play. It is related to the previous post about tapping your feet while you play to keep good time. However, it has additional benefits.
The most obvious advantage is that it sets the tempo. You are not diving in trying to play at the right speed as well as finding the right notes and fingerings all at the same time. You have set the beat first and can the add the music to that.
I find that when a student counts in (or I count in for them) they invariably play the piece more accurately and evenly than they would otherwise.
Another benefit of the count in is that it allows you a short time to mentally prepare for what you are about to play. You can take a breath, compose yourself, put distractions out of your mind. You will be more able to give your full attention to the music you are about to create. During practice you will be able to focus better on the specific aspects you are working on. It provides a clear separation between preparing and doing, and allows you to get your mindset right for the doing part.
Finally, the count in gives you a short time to physically prepare for what you are about to do. You can take a breath, adjust your posture if necessary, start your foot tapping, get your strumming hand moving, or any other action appropriate to your instrument.
It’s very difficult to go instantly from stillness or relaxation into fast, precise, controlled movement. If there’s anything you can do during the count in to get yourself up to speed, even a little way, then that can only help. The first couple of bars are often the hardest to get the timing completely accurate because it can take a moment to settle into the beat of whatever you’re playing. Using the count in to get a head start where possible makes it easier to get things spot on right from the start.
I’ve definitely noticed students who are struggling with a piece play it better when they count themselves in.
Even if you’re practicing a short repeated phrase or a few beats, at least give yourself a couple of beats count in every time you start. It might not make it perfect but it will make it better.
Previously on Learn Music Faster – Make Mistakes