Putting the X-Factor into practising

(picture credit: The XFactor/Twitter)

Saturday nights are all about the X-Factor, aren’t they? The tv talent show which, after weeks of auditions, boot camps and live performances is now reaching its finale.

I expect you know the format: each singer receives comments (often harsh) from four  “celebrity” judges, who then vote the act in or out. Usually, it’s pretty obvious why a particular act will be voted in or out: the singing was out of tune, not rhythmic, just plain or awful – or totally amazing. When the process to pick who will go through to the live performances (‘boot camp’ and ‘judges’ houses’) is complete, the general public is invited to vote who stays and who goes each week. Sometimes, the results of the public vote are very close, resulting in a “sing off”.

You can put yourself through the X-Factor process in your own practising at home, as a way of making your practising more interesting and more productive. My friend and colleague, pianist and teacher Graham Fitch (whom some of my students have worked with at masterclasses) calls this “using the feedback loop” – and what you’re doing is turning yourself into an X-Factor judge about your own playing.

How to put the X-Factor into your practising:

  • Decide who you want as your judges. It could be Gary, Louis, Tulisa, or Nicole from the real X-Factor, or judges invent yourself.
  • Before you play, make some notes about what you want to achieve. You might want to make a chart, with 2 columns: (1) What am I hoping to achieve? (2) Did I achieve my goals?
  • Play through your piece
  • After you’ve played, think carefully about how you played: what did you like about your playing? What didn’t you like? What do you think you need to do to improve your piece?

It’s a good idea to use this X-Factor method when you are ready to play your pieces through at the end of a practice session between lessons. If your teacher has made suggestions about things you should be covering in your practising, use the X-Factor method to ensure you have covered everything. And when you play through the piece at your next practice session, be an X-Factor judge to check whether you can hear an improvement in your playing.

Teacher’s note: I regularly ask my students how they practice. All too often, they reply that they simply play their pieces through from start to finish, and if the piece sounds “ok”, they move on to the next thing. This is not an effective way of practising, as mistakes or problem areas are often overlooked, or errors are simply reinforced instead of being fixed. One of the main, and ongoing, focuses of my teaching is encouraging all students, at whatever level, to practice intelligently and thoughtfully, using tried and trusted methods which I apply to my own practising.

Further reading:

Practising the Piano – an excellent and informative blog on piano practice by Graham Fitch

Music at Monkton – a blog written by the Director of Music at Monkton Coombe School. Helpful, imaginative informative articles for teachers, parents and students.

Self-evaluation and the keys to thoughtful practice – an article on effective practising I wrote for my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist

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