Sacred Music Florida's 3rd Annual Competition

Set a Goal - Work Hard - Compete - Grow

  1.  Begin each practice session in prayer and ask God to help you to use your time wisely and to guide your heart and mind.
  2. If you are starting a new piece you will want to work in small sections. (pianists should begin with hands apart). Depending on the difficulty of the piece you may want to work anywhere from 4-16 measures at a time‚Äč
  3. First, turn on your metronome (there are free metronome apps for your phone) and find a tempo that you can play the section PERFECTLY! You may want to have it clicking on every eighth note instead of a quarter. The idea is for there to be NO mistakes. Your brain needs to be able to keep up with what is going on with your fingers and to learn the piece. If you make a mistake then lower the metronome by 5 beats per minute (bpm). If you make another mistake at this slower tempo then lower it 5 more bpm until you find the tempo in which you can play the section perfectly (again...hands apart for pianists at this point).
  4. Now that you have a tempo where you are able to play the section with correct notes and rhythm you need to play the "10 Pennies Game!" Yes... you get to play a game while you practice!! Get 10 pennies or 10 quarters, etc. Turn on your metronome to the speed your have established and play the section (hands apart for pianists). If you get it correct with NO mistakes then you get a penny. I make a pile of pennies on the stand/piano and move them over when I earn them. Let's say that you have earned 3 pennies. If you make a mistake on the next time, you must PUT A PENNY BACK! Do this until you have earned all 10 pennies. The harder you are on yourself, the better you will learn your piece. For instance, don't let yourself get away with "little mistakes". Your brain is working hard to learn and your muscles are memorizing what you are doing so even the slightest mistake means putting a penny back. Also make sure that you are observing the dynamics, correct fingerings, staccato/legato, etc. Be your own teacher...the more you do this the more you will notice your mistakes because you are actually training your ear to be more observant of the little things in the music. These little details will all come together to make you a much finer musician. 
  5. Once you have earned your 10 pennies (in both hands for the pianists) you may work on to a new section and repeat these steps.
  6. Pianists should also do 10 pennies with your hands together also before moving on to a new section. 
  7. At the end of each section, a page or the entire piece you should also begin to speed up the tempo 5 beats at a time. ONLY INCREASE THE SPEED IN INCREMENTS OF 5 BEATS PER MINUTE! If you make even 1 mistake at the new tempo stop and earn 5 pennies at this new tempo before increasing the speed by 5 bpm. Think of this... you have spent all this time earning your 10 pennies at a slow tempo. You have created a very fragile little work of art. If you rush the tempo now you will destroy all the work that you have done; however, increasing the tempo in small amounts will help to make this work of art strong and stable. You will be amazed what you can do using this practice technique! Slow and steady wins the race (or in this case the penny game)!
  8. Continue leaning new sections and speeding them up until you work through the piece.
  9. Set a goal at the beginning of each practice session. Don't just say "I will practice for 1 hour today." It is better and more productive to say, "During this practice session I will earn 10 pennies on the first section." Then practice another time that same day and earn 10 pennies on the next section. I like to practice in many shorter sessions throughout the day making sure that each practice session has a clear goal.
  10. Here is another way to use the 10 penny game. Because most of the competition categories require memorization you can change the game slightly to help you memorize. Once you have earned your first 10 pennies at the beginning slow tempo you will be speeding it up by 5 bpm as I explained above. Earn 5 pennies looking directly at the music and then the other 5 pennies looking away from the music each time you increase the tempo by 5bpm. You will know the piece very well and will have no trouble with the memorization.

I hope these tips will help you as you prepare for the competition!

If you have questions or comments please feel free to email me, Allison DeMarco at 

Practice Tips

You've heard it say that "practice makes perfect."  I would like to change this statement slightly and say that smart, focused practice makes progress. My name is Allison DeMarco and I am the founder of Sacred Music Florida. I have spent many years as an orchestral flutist performing countless concerts with symphony orchestras, ballet companies and opera companies. I was also Director of Handbell Choirs and a children's choir at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church for many years when Dr. D. James Kennedy was pastor. I love teaching and I love the Lord! This competition has grown out of a desire for students to take seriously their talents as a gift from the Lord that should be nurtured and developed so that you might become a tool that is used mightily in His Kingdom! My prayer for all of you who enter is that the Lord Jesus will guide your practice and that you will enjoy this time and give Him praise for the special gifts He has given to you. 

Proper Practice