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#072: Divide and Conquer: How to Practice a Piece in Sections

Have you ever wanted someone to just give you a system for learning a piece of music, a system that would work for every piece, every time? Me too. But there isn’t one.

Ok, don’t give up on me yet. I do have one that will work for most pieces, most of the time, and I’m going to teach that to you today.  

Why are we always looking for that single system, that magic bullet? My idea is that it’s because learning music is so complicated, with so many considerations and moving parts. At the same time as we are dealing with all this complexity, we are trying to make the music beautiful and expressive, something that transcends mere notes and rhythm. Not a small task my friend. 

I found a quote the other day that really spoke to me. It’s a quote from a Danish computer scientist who teaches at Columbia University. His name is Bjarne Stroustrup. I think I was drawn to this quote and some others of his because his sense of humor reminded me of my dad’s. My dad was also a computer programmer. 

The quote I want to share for the purposes of our discussion today is this: The most fundamental problem in software development is complexity. There is only one basic way of dealing with complexity: divide and conquer.

Substitute the phrase “learning music” for “software development” and it works perfectly, like this:  The most fundamental problem in learning music is complexity. There is only one basic way of dealing with complexity: divide and conquer.

That’s our topic for today, and the basis for the system I am going to share. The best way to learn a piece of music is to divide it into sections. I bet you do this already, but there are super-effective ways to do it and some that are less so, and we’re all about effective practice here. I’m going to teach you what I believe is the best system for using section work to divide and conquer almost any piece of music. So grab a piece of music and a pencil and let’s start dividing so you can conquer.

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected]


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