If you are a musician, you probably practice. A lot. Even if you are not one of the classically trained players, you surely have some kind of method to learn the music you want to play. During practice, we make mistakes. It’s completely normal and part of the process. And here comes the important question. When you make a mistake, do you stop and start playing the whole piece from the start again? If you do that frequently, well, we have a bad news for you: it’s not a good practice.
Right from the start, shall I? No.
Let’s see why. The mechanism of the above practice method results in the following. When you start playing the piece from the beginning, you basically repeat the things you can already play. That, of course, doesn’t include the part where the mistake occurs. The mistake will most probably happen again and again, which result in you learning the piece that exact way. You’ll learn the parts you can already play inside out, and you’ll also learn where to stop and play a mistake. Who knows, you might even learn a particular playing error, if you keep repeating the above process stubbornly.
Start from the mistake
So what’s the correct way to learn the difficult part? It, of course, involves our favorite method of slowing down the problematic part to a comfortable tempo… or no tempo at all. You just want to dive deep into the nuts and bolts of the music, and work out the best possible way to play it. What really matters is that you keep your focus on the problem passages in separation, and learn them one by one. Treat them as single microscopic musical pieces. It also means that once your muscle memory is intact, you learn to play the part in an emotionally expressive, musical way. Just that single, short part where the mistakes occurred previously.
It will happen in a couple of days or weeks, then it’s time to learn the connections. What are they? These are the parts that come right before the problem parts, plus the problem parts themselves. It’s up to you how much earlier you start before the problematic passage. In the end, this process is almost like visual art, when the artist turns the photograph upside down to get certain difficult segments right without being diverted by the familiar whole.