Here is the final part of this series on beginning a new piece. Like last week’s offering, it’s mostly going to be a list of resources from this blog and from my ebook series featuring those practice tools that, from my experience, are seriously helpful as we begin the learning process. Actually, not only as we begin but also afterwards – I return to them constantly to keep the playing fresh and in tip top condition.


Quarantining is the process of identifying mistakes that always seem to trip us up and isolating them from the rest of the piece. Quarantine becomes a designated practice activity distinct from work on that particular piece, since it embraces troublespots from other pieces too. We work on our quarantine spots before, during and after routine practice – also at odd moments throughout the day which wouldn’t normally count as practice time.

We can include especially problematic sections of pieces we’re about to study, to get a bit of a head start on them. I have a student who has just started learning the G minor Ballade and asked me how best to approach it. Since he already knows the music extremely well (who doesn’t?), I suggested starting work on the LH of the “big tune”:

chopin 1

Also the LH of the E flat waltz section

Chopin 2

In addition to these, I also advised deconstructing the coda. He put in a couple of weeks serious practice on these 3 spots before starting at the beginning.

For more details on quarantining, follow this link to Part 1 of my ebook series.

The 20-Minute Practice Session

It doesn’t have to be 20 minutes, of course, and there’s no need to be a slave to this way of practising but if you find you’re losing concentration and getting distracted by other things in your practice time then the 20-minute practice session might just be for you!

Interleaving v Blocking

I am planning a post on how to manage repetition very soon, but for the sake of completion I want to draw your attention to this excellent idea.

Blocking is where you spend some time going over one spot and then moving on to another. Interleaving is based on achieving the same number of practice repetitions of the spot, but instead of doing the repetitions back to back you interleave them with other activities. In other words, spend a few minutes on Piece A, move to Piece B (or Practice Activity B), return to your work on Piece A, then move to Piece C, and so on. So instead of AAAA/BBB/CCCCC, our practice session might look like A-B-A-C-B-C-A-C-B-C-A, etc.

For more details on interleaving versus blocking, see the last part of my post There’s a Hole in my Bucket.

The Quality Control Inspector

This is one of the posts I am most proud of, I wish I had known about this when I was a student – but I make sure to pass this on to my own students and I notice the vast difference it makes in their work. It is simply this – whether it involves repeating something or practising a passage in a dotted rhythm or whatever, every single thing we practise, even if it is just a step on the way, needs to be done flawlessly.

quality control

Follow this link to my blog post, The Quality Control Inspector

The Daisy Chain Method

When we practise this way, we optimise the way the human brain processes information via the working memory (also referred to as the short term memory). It involves taking a small section at a time and breaking it down. I highly recommend it, although it does take quite a bit of discipline.

If you want to see a demonstration from an elementary piece, you will find it in this video I made for Pianist Magazine.

For the full story on this practice tool, follow this link to my blog post A Daisy Chain

For more on working in sections, follow this link to Part 1 of my ebook series

***   ***   ***

If you enjoyed this article then please click here if you’d like to sign-up to our mailing list to receive future articles, content updates and special offers. You may also be interested in the following resources:

Practising the Piano eBook Series 

There are surprisingly few books that deal with the art of practising. This multimedia eBook series contains hundreds of videos, audio clips, music examples and downloadable worksheets to show you exactly what need to do in order to get the most out of your practice time. Click here for more information.

Practising the Piano Online Academy

Building on my blog posts and eBook series, the Online Academy takes my work to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses and resources combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, it will transform the way you approach playing or teaching the piano!

Please click here to find out more about the Online Academy or on one of the options below to subscribe:

  • Monthly subscription – Subscribe for £9.99 a month to get full, unlimited access to all Online Academy articles and updates (click here to sign-up for this option)
  • Annual subscription – Save over 15% on the monthly subscription with an annual subscription for £99.99 per year and get free eBooks and editions worth over £70! (click here to sign-up for this option)