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What is Chunking
How do you eat a pizza?
This is the question I ask at every student's very first lesson - and no, the answer is not with your mouth (commence eye-roll).
It's slice by slice.
Music is the same, we use small-chunking to break down each song or piece into small parts.
This makes practice not only more manageable but helps you understand the form and structure of what you practice.
Here are some ways to use this simple, but versatile, concept.
This first one's straightforward: break your music down into small parts and then connect them back together.
If your music is 16 measures you could take it and divide it into 4 equal portions (4 measures each).
Note: it's just a simple example, not all music will be evenly dividable.
You could also break each section down further (4 measures = 1 + 1 + 1 + 1).
An Elephant Never Forgets
Small-chunking shines when it comes to memorization.
Instead of trying to remember all of your music at once, just commit each separate section to memory.
This is how we memorize phone numbers - instead of 10 numbers in a row, the digits are split into 3 groups:
1234567890 = (123) 456-7890.
This really helps when you perform from memory. It's like going on a road trip - when you memorize the entire piece from beginning to end it's like driving for hundreds of miles without a bathroom break.
When each section is memorized, it's like adding a bunch of rest stops along the way (your bladder will thank you).
Faster Than A Speeding Bullet
I'm a big proponent of slow practice - it's something my students never do enough of (maybe cause of my constant harping).
But this can't be all you do - moving in slow motion isn't going to help you sprint faster.
You need to practice fast in order to play fast and small-chunking is a great way to do this.
By practicing one beat at a time - I've done even less - you can practice at your maximum speed.
Then you adjust incrementally - 2 beats, an entire measure and so on.
However, if speed is a goal of yours make sure to supplement your practice with other methods (recommended reading below). Practicing fast alone doesn't always work.
Put It In Reverse
Lastly, you can small-chunk backwards.
This doesn't mean flipping your music score upside down (Beethoven actually did this in a piano "face-off").
What I mean is you start from the end.
If one chunk of your music is 8 measures long, start at the last 2, back it up to the last 4 measures, then 6 and finally from the very beginning.
Now if you're practicing your entire piece, instead of a small section, start with the very last part.
Let's say you've labeled your music A, B, C, D. You start from D, C, B and then from A.
A quick note - play to the very end each time. So if you did this properly here's how many times you'd play through each section:
Practicing this way has 2 benefits:
Savvy pianists break down their repertoire into smaller pieces for efficient practice.
However, small-chunking is not just the foundation of any solid practice routine: as a project manager, you could break down your company's objective into specific action plans for your team.
If you're a college student, divide your dissertation into separate, distinct writing phases.
I hope what you read today helped you. If it did, make sure to leave a comment at the blog or connect with me on social media.
And make sure to check out the additional resources below.
Further recommended reading:
What is Chunking
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