Practice Strategies – Quarter Tempo!

Hello all!

This semester, I’m working on Sonatine for Bassoon and Piano by Alexandre Tansman. For those of you unfamiliar with the piece (like I was about a week ago!), it’s a 20th century piece that has some really tricky bits in the solo part. It’s not your standard Vivaldi or Mozart piece that bassoonists are more used to. My plan is to play this piece on my recital in the spring, so I wanted to make sure I practice very seriously from the get go. When the piece arrived in the mail, I devised a new practice plan that I am starting to feel pretty good about!

Here is my “normal” strategy and routine for learning a new piece of music:

  1. Listen to a recording of the piece
  2. Try and sight-read the entire piece at roughly 75% tempo slowing down at the hard parts.
  3. Figure out what is easy and what’s hard
  4. Work the easy parts up to tempo
  5. Get really frustrated trying to work the hard parts up to tempo starting at half tempo (hopefully)
  6. End up being satisfied going roughly 90% tempo for performances

Here is what I’m trying with the Tansman

  1. Listen to a recording of the piece
  2. Sight-read the first section (roughly 32 bars) at 25% tempo (QUARTER TEMPO!!!)
  3. Break the first section into multiple subsections and work up each subsection from 25% tempo to slightly more than 50% tempo
  4. Repeat for the rest of the piece!

I started this practice strategy today, and I’m already seeing results!

By starting at Quarter Tempo, I’m already setting myself up to succeed! The 1st movement sits at 132 bpm, so I started at 66 bpm with the eighth note getting the beat. The difficult rhythms immediately were simplified and I was able to play the rhythms and notes correctly from the beginning. I was able to focus on things like musiciality and proper finger technique.  Over the course of about an hour and a half, I was able to work up 12 measures (about half of the first section) from 66 bpm to the eighth note to 72 bpm to the quarter note. Granted, I’m still less barely more than half tempo at this point, and it’s only 12 measures; however, I feel a lot more secure and comfortable about the beginning of this piece!

I’m hoping that this method leads to less frustration and more facility and musicality as I prepare this piece. So far so good! Below is a video of my work so far!


— M. Fox

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