How to Practise

Updated: Feb 5


An accumulation of letters do not make a story. In the same way an accumulation of notes do not make a piece of music.


No one will ever remember a speech read without passion and emotion.

No one will ever forget a deeply moving speech because of its emotional impact.

(Dalecarnegie.com, 2021)


The preparation time you have with a piece is your time to find out everything you can about that piece, to become a part of the piece and to understand what the piece is trying to say with each passage or musical phrase. If you were to read a passage from a speech by a great orator with emotion, feeling and passion you would remember it better than a unvoiced piece of writing.


This emotion in the reading due to the preparation completed beforehand, and the method of its completion. When a piece is prepared for either your teacher, or through your own self guidance it is important to have a pathway to follow to learn the piece. There is a phrase in England, “throw enough mud at the wall and some of it will stick” this always reminds me of throwing enough time at the playing of a piece to achieve all the notes in the right order at the right time. This method is fine when you are making a wattle and daub house or maybe pebble dashing a wall, but when waiting for crops to grow, bread to rise or a fine wine to mature, then time is required.


Mastering a piece takes time. Time to understand the composer's intentions, what he was writing, why he was writing it and what he was writing it for, the skills each phrase requires and the direction and meaning of each phrase. So why do you practise?

There are three sorts of practice


  1. To get all the notes in the right order at the right time.

  2. To understand what the music is saying and how you should translate this dialogue into sound.

  3. To present it to a listener so they understand it.



Read these words out loud, just the words in the correct order recognising the punctuation. This speech was given by W.L Spencer-Churchill (1874-1965) (Nicholas, 2018)

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. (Speeches in Parliament, 2020)

This is the first level of practising. To play the notes, to add the phrasing and some basic dynamics. In general it is approximately grade 1 and 2 or 3 of the standard exam syllabi.


This speech was given by Winston Churchill on 4th June 1940. Poland (Editors.) , Belgium (House et al.) and Norway (Ushmm.org, 2019) had surrendered, Hitler had just entered French territory (Hart.), Paris had been bombed and was on the brink of surrender, British troops were being evacuated from The Battle of Dunkirk (The Royal British Legion). (The horrors of the holocaust were not yet known in England. (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org,.))


Now read it again knowing its situation in history.


We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

This is the second level of practising. To know the context of the piece, to be able to understand why it was written and how it should sound, and to be able to reproduce this in your playing To add colour and shaping to the music to allow emotional content to be heard. In general it is approximately grade 3 to 5 of the standard exam syllabi.


The location of this speech is the House of Commons. Churchill is a British statesman, orator, and author who, as prime minister (1940–45, 1951–55), rallied the British people during World War II and led his country from the brink of defeat to victory. (Britannica). Now read it out loud, as if you were in the House of Commons and leading the country to an unknown end.


We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

This is the third level of practising. The inclusion of inflection, the emotion that gives rise to “growing confidence and growing strength in the air” , the lowering of tone on “defend our island” and the finality emphasis to the word “never”. This speech has never been forgotten because of the emotional impact it had on the listener. He was speaking about something that he had earned the right to talk about. He was talking

from the inside out. It is approximately grade 6 and 8 of the standard exam syllabi. The ability to know a piece so personally that the listener understands this.



You may be saying to yourself: “Is there really a quick and easy way to learn a piece?”


  • Play something that has aroused your interest.

  • Play something that you have a deep desire to communicate to your listeners.

  • Play something that you have a deep desire to understand or learn something about.

  • Play something with a reason that excites you.


After that, it will take time to investigate, understand, practise and prepare.

Not all practise is beneficial or helpful. Mindless practice wastes time, energy and can destroy a piece whereas focused and mindful practice is goal directed, problem solving and solution focused.


Decide on your goals and focus on that goal for ten or fifteen minutes.

A practice session of forty five minutes or shorter is more effective than a one hour or more. Decide on your three goals to achieve by setting a limit on your practice time your efficiency and use of time will rise as the old adage states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion".



Plan to work through a piece at the three levels Level 1 - 10 to 15 minutes

  • Start with the note progression.

  • Work through the order of notes in the appropriate time.

  • Verify the timing is correct.

  • Correct any issues within these guidelines.


Level 2 - 15 minutes

Look at the details in the piece.

  • What chords are used?

  • Where are the cadences, the punctuation?

  • What is the direction of a phrase?

  • Where is the rise and fall of the breath of the piece?


Level 3 - 15 minutes

How are each of these reflected in the performance?

  • What is the composer's intention?

  • What message is the piece giving?

  • What situation was it composed for?

  • What journey is the piece taking you on?

Level 4 - 15 minutes

This was not mentioned above, but it is the level of polish that you would expect in a laboratory looking at a petri dish through a microscope or a professional shoe cleaner achieving a shine you can see your face in. Is your version saying what you want it to say?


A good summary of a problem solving practice can be found on the website site The Bulletproof Musician

  1. Define the problem: What do I want this note/phrase to sound like?

  2. Analyse the problem: What is causing it to sound like this?

  3. Identify potential solutions: What can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?

  4. Test potential solutions: What tweaks seem to work best?

  5. Implement the best solution: Make those tweaks permanent

  6. Monitor implementation: Are these tweaks continuing to get me the results I want? Or do they need to be refined?

(Kageyam Ph.D, 2018)


And now, to practise, correctly.


Questions and Exercises

Question 1

What is the most important item to include in a speech or performance?


Question 2

What is required in the preparation time of a piece?


Question 3

What are the four stages of practising?


Exercise 1

Write a practice plan for your current piece, keep to it and record your progress over 4 weeks. Analyse the development.


Exercise 2

Video a small section of practise and look at how you achieved your goal, or how you could improve the action to achieve it.


Exercise 3

Listen to three performance of a piece you know very well. What do you believe this version of the piece is telling you? What can you hear? What did the composer want to say? How are they different?


Reference list

  1. Dalecarnegie.com. (2021). Speak More Effectively Dale Carnegie ebook. [online] Available at: https://www.dalecarnegie.com.

  2. Editors, H. com (n.d.). Warsaw falls to German forces. [online] HISTORY. Available at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/poland-surrenders.

  3. Hart, B. (n.d.). Battle of France | History, Summary, Maps, & Combatants. [online]

  4. Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-France-World-War-II.

  5. House, F.P.L.Q., Ambury, T., Engl, B.B. 1UA A. rights reserved and number 2008885, W. company registration (n.d.). The 5 Longest Sieges in History | All About History. [online] www.historyanswers.co.uk. Available at: https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/ancient/the-5-longest-sieges-in-history/ [Accessed 4 Feb. 2021].

  6. Kageyam Ph.D, N. (2018). How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice? [online] Bulletproof Musician. Available at: https://bulletproofmusician.com/how-many-hours-a-day-should-you-practice/.

  7. Nicholas, H.G. (2018). Winston Churchill | Biography, World War II, & Facts. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Winston-Churchill.

  8. The Royal British Legion. (n.d.). Dunkirk | A Soldier’s Story | Royal British Legion. [online] Available at: https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/stories/remembering-dunkirk-we-were-still-soldiers-by-god [Accessed 4 Feb. 2021].

  9. Ushmm.org. (2019). Norway. [online] Available at: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/norway.

  10. Winston Churchill’s inspiring wartime speeches in Parliament. (2020). BBC News. [online] 8 May. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52588148.

  11. www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. (n.d.). When Did the World Find Out About the Holocaust? [online] Available at: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/when-did-the-world-find-out-about-the-holocaust.


Author: C.L. Caton-Greasley CT ABRSM DipLCM(TD), ALCM(TD), LLCM(TD) Publishing Date: 04/02/2021

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