We've all got holes in our playing. Big or small, we know some of them well and some sneak under our radar.
A big one for me is a sluggish right hand. I realized it for the first time several years ago getting back in shape after having broken my right pinky in a bike crash. I knew that it'd take some time to get strength, speed, and coordination back, but in the process I realized for the first time how far behind the rest of my playing my right hand was. I'm working on it every day.
Another small hole for me has always been two fast thirty-second notes before a string of triple-tongued eighth-note triplets. Think the loud fanfares in Mahler 1 or at the top of the second page of Pines of Rome. Slowing down the articulation for the second note of the first triplet has always been a huge stumbling block for me.
Well next week I'm playing Mahler 1, and I've taken this as an opportunity to work on both things. I've been using these simple practice variations, the same thing for both keys the fanfare is in. [Edit for clarity: it's the D-flat major version that's so tough for the right hand. It's great to have the two right next to each other, so if the D major is fine but D-flat major stinks, you know what the problem is.]
First the original as a reference, then a basic skeleton. Add triple tonguing, then get to those pesky 32nds. This is the place to really work on making sure the fourth and fifth notes are slow enough. Then a variation using the same fingerings as the real passage, but shrinking the intervals to reduce the flexibility challenge; this is the place to make sure your fingers and tongue are coordinated. The last variation adds half of the flexibility challenge back, then you're ready to go back to the original passage.
So many challenges like these 32nds aren't really that big of a deal, but it's easy to skirt around them over the years. A bit of focused work can sort things out most of the time, but the critical steps are to identify it, understand exactly what's going on, and decide to do something about it.
I've decided this season to redouble my efforts seek out as many of these holes as I can, and find ways to fix them. How have you noticed and fixed things in your playing? Please share your experience in the comments, I'd be interested to hear.