Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
in Voice, Piano, Guitar & the Fundamentals of Music

All Skill Levels Welcome, Ages 4 -104

Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
in Voice, Piano, Guitar & the Fundamentals of Music

Clef Notes

Practicing Backwards

This is not what you think. What I’m talking about is starting your practice work at the end of a piece and methodically working your way backwards to the beginning. It keeps your mind engaged. I will explain.

How It Usually Goes Down

Let’s take a beginning piano piece that is eight bars long, for example. Most beginners I know practice this way:

  • Play the first two bars pretty well.
  • Run into trouble in the third and fourth bars.
  • Play the first two bars again.
  • Run into the same trouble in the third and fourth bars.
  • Play the first two bars again.
  • Run into the same trouble in the third and fourth bars, but maybe press through this time.
  • Get to the fifth and sixth bars, which are often similar to the first two, so life is good.
  • Get to the seventh and eighth bars, which are often the most difficult, and throw the hands up.
  • Play the first two bars.
  • Run into trouble in bars three and four.
  • Practice session is over.

The next day’s agenda is usually the same.

Let’s Do the Math

If a person practices that way for five days in a row, some of those sections are going to make progress, but here’s how many times you’ve played each section:

  • Bars 1 and 2 – 40 times
  • Bars 3 and 4 – maybe 10 times making it through it, but 30 times incorrectly
  • Bars 5 and 6 – 5 times
  • Bars 7 and 8 – maybe you persisted 2 or 3 times and maybe you got it right once.

Since the ending of a piece is usually the most difficult, this formula should be flipped on its head in order to be the most effective. You should be practicing the ending 40 times!

So let’s start there.

Introducing Our Example Piece by Philip Orr

My very good friend Phil Orr writes beautiful music, and, for Christmas in 2018, he wrote some little pieces for his piano-playing friends of all ages as gifts. HOW COOL IS THAT? I will never approach his level of coolness. In addition to that, he is giving me permission to show you his piece called “Noël sur pas de thème particulier.” He even sent me an .mp3 of him playing it so you can hear how it goes. You can listen to it after you hear me out.

Here is the piece in its entirety, which by the way, is probably the coolest Christmas piano piece I’ve ever been able to play. With all those sharps and double sharps, it looks a lot harder than it actually is, so I encourage all you piano players to give it a go. Here’s a link to the pdf so you can download and print.

Noel sur pay de theme particulier by Philip Orr

Start by “Reading” Through the Sheet Music & Marking Sections

Start with reading through from the beginning as best you can to get a feel for the form of the piece. By reading, I mean looking at the score and trying to play through no matter how slowly or painfully without stopping to fix mistakes. If these chords are too difficult, just play the melody. If your reading skills are not such that this is even possible, see if you can get a recording of the piece and read through the music while listening. Read or listen through a second time, and mark what you would consider to be the beginning of each new section.

I would divide this piece into the following sections:

Give Names to Each Section That Are Meaningful to You

You might notice that I gave a name to each section. I got this idea from Philip Johnston while reading his book called The Practice Revolution, which I highly recommend. He calls it “Divide and Conquer.”

How To Practice Backwards

Your first practice session could go like this:

  • Start by figuring out how to play bars 29 – 32 “Descent to Happy.”
  • Play it at least 10 times.
  • Work on bars 25-28 “Fourths.” 
  • Play it at least 10 times.
  • Play 25 – 32 and feel good.
  • Reward yourself by playing from the beginning.

The second practice session could go like this:

  • Play “Descent to Happy” to remember it.
  • Play “Fourths” to remember it.
  • Play 25 – 32 until you feel good – could be as many as 20 times.
  • Tackle “Sharp Land” by reading through bars 15 – 20 and maybe marking in a few notes to yourself to help with reminder sharps or naturals and fingering.
  • Reward yourself by playing from the beginning.

Your third practice session could go like this:

  • Tell yourself  “Sharp Land is going DOWN!” 
  • Play it 5 times.
  • Take it apart and practice even smaller sections to get the feel of them in your hands.
  • Play it 20 times.
  • Reward yourself by playing from the beginning.

By the time you get to your fourth practice session, practicing backwards has probably served its purpose, and you’ll want to move on to different practice techniques like Slow, Fast, Slow, Faster that I’ve discussed in a previous blog post.

Meanwhile, you can take a break now so you can feel like Christmas while listening to Phil play it. You can also visit his website and feel even hipper to know more about him: (Thank you for sharing, Phil!)

Listen to “Noël sur pas de thème particulier” & Feel Like Christmas

P.S. Some of the other titles in his Christmas 2018 collection are “Intro to Headbanging,” “I Told You So,” and “New Jersey Tundra.” Write to me if you are interested in knowing more about those pieces.

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