Now that we have the correct mindset for learning, let’s describe one specific way of Not Learning Things Wrong.
As I worked through the first LFCC exercises that were challenging (which were downward thirds in keys like F♯ and B major) and working them up slowly, I started optimizing the process to work through them quicker. It even started to be a bit of game after a while. To my surprise, not only did this save time by skipping certain things, it actually made progress faster because I made less errors going forward.
The One Commandment
Thou shalt stop immediately after a mistake. Do not power thorough the rest of the exercise! Just stop, and start again. This applies throughout this entire process. This is, essentially all you need to know. Everything hereafter is just working within that constraint.
- Decide what you’re working on. In LFCC, is it decided for you – in this phase, each exercise is a two bar pattern of diatonic notes in various permutations. The goal is ♩=160. But if you’re learning something, you’ll have to choose what subset to work with first.
- Decide what you’re not working on. In my case, I need the technique to be clear, but I’m not working on tone, dynamics, or expressiveness. That doesn’t mean play horribly, just don’t pay attention to what’s not on the table.
Find Your Baseline Tempo
Next is to find the fastest comfortable tempo you can start at. Don’t just start at the target tempo and work your way back, remember, that only makes you start off with a weed. But also don’t start at some too-slow tempo, you’ll just waste time and bore yourself.
Here’s one way to do it, and I admit this might be a too detailed and systematic. The important part is start either where you are reasonably sure you can do it, or the midpoint if unsure.
- Take your goal tempo and divide it in half. OK, ♩=160, we start at ♩=80. Set your metronome there.
- If it’s really tricky, trial-run just the fingerings at half-tempo. Leave the metronome set at the candidate tempo. Don’t blow into the horn yet. If the exercise is eighth notes, then run the exercise as if they were quarter notes. If your phrase has multiple note values, use the smallest one for each, regardless of the value. Aim for the cleanest possible move that you’re comfortable with, pay attention to how your fingers feel. This way, you can hear any clunking and blipping that might be masked by playing.
- Trial-run the fingerings at the candidate tempo. Same as #2, just at the real tempo.
- Play it at the candidate tempo. As soon as you make a mistake, stop. You only get one chance at this part of the game.
- If you played it twice correctly in a row, change the tempo halfway between the candidate and target, in this case: 80+((160-80)/2) = 120. Repeat until you find your upper failure limit. That is the tempo where you make your first mistake.
- When you fail, play at 75% the speed, (80*3)/4 = 60. Repeat until you find your lower limit.
For the curious, we are binary searching to find the best starting tempo while minimizing mistakes.
Next up, working that exercise up to speed.