Oud learning diary V: making better use of practise time

03/11/2015 § Leave a comment

Since the last diary entry I have been practising more than I have before with this instrument. I have been dedicating about 2-3 hours a night to music [I work full time during the week] and more on the weekends. Last Sunday I practised for about 5-6 hours. I wish that it were possible for me to practise for this long on every day of the week, but at the moment it’s not possible. Practising for this length of time felt like gaining a far greater, natural attuning to the instrument.

In my current situation of being able to practise not as often as I would like to, I feel that it’s important to focus not just on how long to practise but on how to practise per se. I came across this excellent article regarding practising efficiently in Bulletproof Musician which emphasises that practising mindfully rather than playing the piece over and over can have a large impact on improvement. This paragraph sums up the article rather nicely:

So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses. Violinist Paul Kantor once said that the practice room should be like a laboratory, where one can freely tinker with different ideas, both musical and technical, to see what combination of ingredients produces the result you are looking for.

I am therefore adopting this mode of thinking at the moment. I have already slowed my pratice tempo right down and practised small sections repeatedly and at about 30-50bpm. Kageyama gives the following 6-step model for further improvement:

  1. Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)
  2. Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)
  3. Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
  4. Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)
  5. Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)
  6. Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)

I will apply this method to the passage in the Haydar piece which is giving me the greatest problems [from section 3]:


  1. Define the problem: this is probably simpler than it seems. It may be easier to say at this point what the problem is not. It is not difficult stretches between notes, it is not playing notes very quickly in succession, it is not failing to attack the notes properly and it is not getting the timing incorrect. The problem in this section is purely hitting notes in tune – and not successive notes, but just occasional ones [normally the same ones]. Here is the annotated passage again but this time with the notes highlighted which are giving me the most problems:


Here I have identified not one passage as such, but six particular notes that are giving causing the main issues. If these notes were to be played correctly, then the passage would sound fine, the other notes giving me comparatively fewer problems.

2. The chief question next is what is causing this notes to sound off pitch? The initial answer is I am concentrating too much on where I think the note should be physically placed [by sight] rather than where it should be aurally placed [by sound]. The oud – being very much an instrument one played with ones ears rather than with one’s eyes, paying attention to every subtle shift in quartones – or microtones – responds the best when the aural distance between notes [preceding and succeeding] are paid attention to, rather than where one thinks they are physically placed on the fingerboard.

3. The potential solution is to play these passages more slowly but being aware of the three main problem areas identified and playing the succeeding note based on tonal relationship rather than visual. It may be worth looking away from the instrument for these parts of the piece. I do tend to look almost constantly at the fingerboard for this part of the music, whereas I hardly look at it at all for the rest of the piece. I will test this hyothesis in the next couple of days and resume this diary entry with result for point four.


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