Practicing the Five Times Rule


Playing music is about beauty, expression, communication, and exhilaration. But before we get to this high level of music making, we must attain technical perfection. There should be no such thing as 'sort of good enough.'

All too often, we play a passage, make a mistake, back up and try it again. We make the same mistake, and after several more tries, we finally get it right. Then we move on.

Lets look at what we've just done. We've practiced playing it wrong! We've played something wrong several times, but only played it right once.

Practice really works! We tend to play a passage in performance just the way we most often play it in practice. If we've played something wrong 30 times, and only played it right 5 times, it will probably come out wrong. Therefore, make sure you play it right enough to make the right notes become habit.

Here is a practice habit to develop. Set the metronome to a speed where you can reliably play a 'hard part.' Play it perfectly 5 times in a row. Use really high standards. Make sure every note is the right pitch and rhythm. Make sure each note is in tune, has good tone, and is articulated properly. If you make any mistake, even on the last note of the 5th time, you must start over from the beginning.

Then set the metronome to be 6 to 10 beats per minute faster and start the 5 times rule again. Keep setting the metronome faster until its too fast to play cleanly. If you do this every day, over a week's time you will see great improvement. —Steve Rosenthal