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Time Saving Practice by Gary Karr

In 1999, when I was on my college Double Bass studies with professor David Murray at Butler University, he shared with me a very interesting article by Gary Karr, which was published on February of the same year, at the American String Teacher Magazine exposing a MORE PRODUCTIVE PRACTICE, IN FOUR STEPS AWAY FROM THE INSTRUMENT; an idea not only addressed for Double Bass players but also for all String players.


In 1999 I used this article on a Psychology of Music Learning class’ final paper, and now, 15 years after, with many thanks to Professors Karr, and Murray, as I still think The Four Steps are so useful, I’m here sharing my outline, and the original article.

STEP ONE | RHYTHM
  1. Understand rhythms by isolating them
  2. Do not go any further until there are no hesitations
  3. Set a metronome to a slow tempo and tap the rhythm of the entire piece
  4. If hesitation occurs, take note where exactly it happens, isolate it again, and perfect it
  5. Repeat several times the rhythms of the entire piece with metronome, each time faster until reaching the desired tempo
  6. Do not go to the next step until being able to handle the goal set in this step
STEP TWO | INTERVALS
  1. Many alternatives: sing all notes using our own syllables, whistle,  or hum, but the best is to hear all notes in our head without producing any sound
  2. Like with the rhythms, look for interval problems, and understand that intervals by isolating them
  3. If need for instrument help, use a piano rather than your instrument
  4. Set a metronome to a slow tempo, and see if it is possible to hear the notes of the entire piece correctly
  5. Repeat this several times, each time faster until reaching the desired tempo without hesitation
  6. Do not go to the next step until being able to handle the goal set in this step
STEP THREE | BOWINGS
  1. Mark the essential bowings, without the instrument
  2. Gary Karr understands that takes some theoretical understanding to mark bowings, but because he also considers it so beneficial, he encourages even beginning student to do it
  3. The bowings goal is to came with the easiest bowing possible. For example, if there are to much notes under one slur, Karr recommends to change the bow direction more than once (later, trying in the instrument we can decide what is better, and while doing this we are learning about bowing decisions)
  4. After jot down all bowings changes, set the metronome to a slow tempo, and sing, whistle,  hum, or hear inside your head the entire piece while imagining bowing every note as marked
  5. Repeat this several times, each time faster, until feeling all bowings at the desired tempo
  6. Do not go to the next step until being able to handle the goal set in this step
STEP FOUR | FINGERINGS
  1. Bowings determine fingerings—Fingerings, according to Gary Karr, should match the bowings, that is the reason why this step is after the one before
  2. We should always try to find the easiest fingering
  3. Jot down all the fingerings in the music, so you do not have to rely in your memory when playing, avoiding this way unnecessary hesitations
  4. Without the instrument, set the metronome to a slow tempo, and imagining playing the entire piece until feeling all bowings and fingerings
  5. Repeat this several times, each time faster, until feeling all bowings and fingerings at the desired tempo
  6. Try to recreate in your “mind’s ear” how the music should sound on the instrument
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
  1. If the piece has an accompaniment, Karr suggests to do the four steps by the accompaniment part
  2. If we cannot ear the accompaniment part, we should make the effort to understand the rhythmic movement of the mentioned accompaniment
  3. Now, according to Karr, we are ready to go to the instrument and isolate the passages in which we hesitate
  4. Practice slow and increase tempo gradually
Karr refutes his concept saying that in addiction to the work on intonation, bowing and fingering, after completing the four steps for time-saving practice, we begin automatically to form musical ideas about how the piece should be played. Karr also says, “There is no stronger motivation to playing well than a musical idea.”

Karr's 4 Steps for Time Saving Practice

The original article at the magazine:
American String Teacher 
February, 1999