5 top tips for reverse practice

By Melanie Spanswick

In this context, ‘reverse practice’ can be a beneficial tool which will help us develop our aural perception, listening skills, and our concentration. It will also focus our attention on the sound of a piece with the intention of taking notes off the page, securing them firmly in our minds, as opposed to purely relying on our muscle memory, which can be limiting and can cause issues, particularly when committing a piece to memory.


1 Locate a passage in your latest piece. It could be any type of passage with a variety of note patterns or figurations, but the most useful would be a melody and accompaniment or a contrapuntal piece with no more than two parts. A two-part invention by JS Bach would be perfect, for example. It doesn’t matter if the melody is in the right or left hand as long as there is clear differentiation between the two lines of music. Begin with a small section – perhaps just eight or ten bars.


2 Take a look at the left-hand part. What do you notice about its construction? Is it an accompaniment figure or part of a contrapuntal piece with a tightly constructed musical line? Does it fit your right hand comfortably? Probably not, but that’s fine. Ignoring the marked fingering (if you have any in your score), play the left-hand line with your right hand. Aim to play the part slowly and exactly as it appears on the score, that is, without transposing it up an octave to accommodate the right hand’s position. It may seem awkward and out of context to do this, however, it will offer a completely different view or experience of your piece and you may start to observe aspects of the piece which you have previously ignored or just haven’t noticed.


3 Now reverse this and take a look at the right-hand part, playing it slowly with your left hand. The left hand feels less secure playing at this angle and therefore it may take a little more practice.


4 A useful aspect of this practice tool is to focus our listening skills; it takes the attention away from muscle memory. Muscle memory is very important, but if we rely on it constantly, we tend to lose sight of the music and of the sound and structure of the piece.


5 Now try to play the passage hands together using this practice concept. Slow work is vital and you may find that the concentration required to play in this manner is substantial – but this is part of the fun and it may help to evolve your thinking process, encouraging you to develop a new type of application and absorption. Now return to playing the piece as written. Do you notice a difference in your concentration or in your ability to focus?


Always practice this technique slowly as it’s not intended to develop speed. You may however, find it an interesting and advantageous practice experiment.


Melanie Spanswick

© Sarah Barnes