5 Tips for Practicing Difficult Parts

  • Written By 
  • Keith Duell
  • Jul 2nd, 2018

Worshiping with an instrument is a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to use our talents, skills, and gifting in ways to glorify God and build a strong community with other worshipers. When we’re in that place on a Sunday morning, or a mid-week evening service, the last thing we want is to be nervous or anxious about the parts we’re playing.

Preparing as much as we can beforehand will not only free up some “mental space” to be more sensitive during worship, but will also allow us to play our instruments and parts with confidence and energy.

One of the biggest obstacles we run into is learning a part that is just flat out difficult to play. Whether it’s a difficult lead synth line, a complicated drum pattern, or just playing in a key we’re unfamiliar with, we can all understand the struggle of being tasked to play something we’re just not quite sure we can pull off.

Most of us don’t have tons of spare time, and that is why knowing how to maximize your practice is crucial! You will learn parts faster, easier and dramatically improve your musicianship. So here are 5 great tips to help make practice sessions more efficient and productive!

#1 Familiarize Yourself with the Key and Genre

Before diving right in to learning a new part, it’s always a great idea to take a moment and get comfortable in the context that we will be playing in. So for a percussionist/drummer that could involve noting what time signature the song is in and whether the song has a dance, rock, ballad, or gospel feel, and then jamming within that context to get comfortable. Listening through the song just to get a “feel” for the groove will go a long way.

For melodic instruments the above method is a great tool as well, but the most important thing would be to familiarize yourself with the key signature, scales, and chords that will be used in the song. This is especially important if for example your worship leader decided that they want to play the opening song in F#. Maybe there are chords and inversions within that key that you’re less familiar with. Taking the time to get comfortable with the key you’ll be playing in will help you avoid “wrong” notes later when you start learning the part.

#2 Break it into Sections

Instead of taking the whole part head on, first break it up into smaller sections that you can learn one at a time. So for example if you have a lead line that’s going to cover 8 bars, you can either break that up according to the melodic phrases, or break it into four 2 bar sections. Once you’ve broken up the part into its sections, you can start practicing. Here is my favorite method to practice and I’ll use the example of breaking a part into 4 sections.

Take the first section and practice it until you are comfortable. Then do the same thing with the second section only. After you have both of those sections comfortable, add them together and practice sections one and two together. You can do the same format for the third and fourth sections. Once sections three and four are comfortable, you can add all the sections together and practice them in one fluid take.

Practicing this way will help the parts stick in your memory since you will have “mental mile markers” to reference each time you need to play that part.

#3 Slow Down

One of the biggest mistakes made when practicing a new or difficult part is taking it too fast. Even if the song is a fast, upbeat dance song, it’s still a great idea to slow down the part while learning it for the first time. Similar to how you can break the part you’re learning into multiple sections, you can do something similar with the tempo you’re playing the part at.

If 120 BPM is the tempo which you need to play the part at, then one option is to start practicing at around 75 BPM until you can play the part perfectly. From there you can increase the speed up to 90 BPM. Practice at that tempo until you feel comfortable and then increase the speed to 105 BPM.

Eventually you can attempt to play the part at full speed, and since you adjusted the tempo in stages it won’t feel as difficult as if you had started to learn the part at 120 BPM. Use however many tempo “stages” you need to feel comfortable. Sometimes increasing the rate by 5 BPM each time is what’s needed. The biggest take away is just to slow down, and gradually increase the speed.

#4 Use a Metronome or Click

As part of the previous section, I highly recommend using a metronome or click track while practicing. Here are a couple reasons why it’s so important!

Tempo stages:  Using a metronome or click while you play will let increase or decrease the speed at which you’re learning the part at easily without trying to guess where 75 BPM is, or if you’ve finally learned the part at 120 BPM

Consistency: Even though we might be really good at keeping a steady tempo while we play, using a metronome will guarantee that we stay consistent with our speed; not slowing down or speeding up.

Training: Using a metronome regularly for practice will also train your ears to naturally and consistently stay in time even when not using a metronome.

Many worship teams will also use a click track if the musicians all have in-ear monitors. Sometimes the constant “clicking” from the click track can be annoying when using it for the first time. Practicing with a metronome will allow you to be prepared ahead of time.

#5 Repetition

And then finally we get to the most important tip and unfortunately the most mundane tip of them all – Repetition! Going back to the very beginning where we talked about how the last thing we want is to be nervous or anxious while playing our parts, repetition is the only way to get ourselves to a place where we no longer have to stress over the parts we’re playing. 

Successfully playing a difficult part once or twice isn’t going to cut it during a live event. In the heat of the moment, or when we get nervous, we always revert to what we know best. If we’ve barely learned the part we’re playing, then there’s a high probability of forgetting that part when it matters most. However practicing the part at the correct tempo over and over will help ingrain the parts into our mind and allow us to play them effortlessly.

Everyone practices differently so see what works best for you! At the end of the day there are multiple ways to get from point A to point B. These are the methods I found most helpful in my own practice routines. Use the tools you have to make the most of your practice time so that you can play difficult parts with a peace of mind knowing you did everything you could to prepare!

Would love to hear from you! What practice tips work for you? Let us know in the comments!

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