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Chunking for Better Music Practice

Chunking is a specific way of grouping small “chunks” of music together for zoomed in practice. It helps you save time and frustration in the practice session!

Chunking is zooming in on tiny sections of music you’re having trouble with, so that you don’t spend an hour playing through mistakes when you could be targeting trouble spots with laser precision, in less time.

I’ve described the chunking technique in different articles over the years, but I think it’s time for me to create a definitive guide on it. 

So, here’s the definitive article about chunking, to help you learn music more quickly.

I’ve created a video to show the technique where you can practice with me! The article below describes the details.

Pinpoint your trouble spot

Divide the music that you’re having trouble with into bars. Play the bars separately; are you still having trouble? Which bars? Highlight them.

What’s the smallest measure of time that you could divide the bar into, that would still make sense? This can be per beat, or per two beats, or whatever makes sense for that part (if it ends in a strange spot, include the end of the triad or whatever).

This is from a piece I was working on, Un Sospiro. I’ve divided the passage into larger chunks that make sense, using the long lines. Then, I used brackets to denote smaller chunks of one beat, or one run of the pattern.

Your chunks can be any size, and as a rule of thumb, the more complicated the passage, the smaller they should be. As you practice, work up to building each chunk being at least one beat.

This is a very fast piece, so I started by chunking with every 3 notes, I kid you not. It’s faster to learn by chunking, than to stumble through the entire passage.

After you have your chunks, the next step is to play them.

How to play chunks in your music

When you are chunking, you are always playing that chunk plus one note.

For the figure above, in the right hand, the first chunk ends at the long pencil line. So when I’m practicing, I’ll play that chunk, plus the C natural in the next chunk.

One chunk plus one note.

Why? When the time comes, you’ll want to connect all the chunks. You have to teach your fingers to leave off where you start, or you’ll end up with a bunch of disjointed chunks that have nothing to do with each other.

Trust me, it’ll feel natural to play the entire passage once you’ve mastered the chunks. When I refer to playing chunks in my writing, I mean playing the chunk plus one note.

If you don’t play the extra note, your fingers might get lost when you’re playing the entire passage.

There’s also the option to chunk with your hands separately. Once you understand the concept of chunking, the sky is the limit! 

It takes some patience to chunk, as you’re playing a few notes over and over again, but in the end, you’ll have a smooth, proper passage that you’ll be proud of. 

I’m going to share a quote by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom Pan follows religiously.

Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger (Pan and I refer to him by first name–that’s how often we talk about him) was a governor of California, and one of the few politicians who has shirtless photos of themselves on the internet?

The other one off the top of my head is Justin Trudeau. I went surfing with Justin once. (Okay. We HAPPENED to be surfing on the same island, beside each other.)

Arnold says, “You can have results or excuses. Not both.”

Check out the deadliest music mistakes or how to enjoy training your fingers and other boring tasks.


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