Getting the most out of your practice.
No matter what skill you are learning, practice is the key to improving and growing as a musician. So how can you get the most out of practice? Is boring repetitive practicing effective or is there another way?
There are numerous theories and ideas about how to get the most out of practice time, but all of them centre around similar core ideas. Lets break them down.
Where: Set aside a specific space to practice. Limit distractions and have supplies at hand so you don’t have to leave the space until you’re done. Ask others around you to respect your practice time as not to be interrupted except in an emergency so you can focus.
When: Find the best time of day to practice. Experiment with different times, as often the body’s daily rhythms are not in synch with your available practice times. If you’re consistently finding yourself too tired to practice at the end of the day, try getting up earlier and practicing before the busy part of the day starts.
Set yourself a schedule you can stick to, daily is best. In order not to forget what you have already worked so hard to learn, and to stay in physical condition, its important to practice each day, even for only a few minutes. If you find you are thinking about skipping a practice session, try simply shortening it so you still get some benefits.
In addition, keep your instrument (if you play) visible and available to pick up when you are going about your daily routine. A few minutes here and there can help in a multitude of ways, and what’s more, really cement your love of your instrument. If your instrument is packed away in its case it will be less likely you will pick it up to simply enjoy playing it.
How: The “how” of practicing is a whole article in and of itself. There are so many theories of how to conduct a practice session it would be impossible to cover them all here. Talk to your teacher about what works best for you, what will help you move more quickly and steadily towards your goals, and what style of learning you need to get you there.
In the mean time, find some blogs which cover your instrument specifically and read articles written by accomplished musicians in your style and instrument to learn from the best.
What: There are a few things nearly every accomplished musician advocates including in a practice session.
Warm up. Every time. Professional musicians warm up, why wouldn’t you?
Increase your technical ability. Do this by practicing what you don’t know rather than what you do know.
Increase your repertoire. Learn songs by others in the style and genre you are learning. When you only play your own stuff, you can miss out on some amazing skills and techniques others have discovered.
Improvise. Jam. Play random notes in a scale until you find a combination which sounds good.
Learn to embrace theory. Yes, it sounds daunting or even plain boring, but to become a better musician you need to understand the fundamentals. Don’t be put off by the idea that it will inhibit your creativity as a musician. Quite the opposite is true. Once you learn the rules, then you can work on breaking them.
Return to the fundamentals every so often. It can be extremely rewarding to return to the very basics even if only to compare your progress from when you first began to where you are now. It can be encouraging to see your growth so starkly.
Tips and tricks
Slow down. There is nothing worse than learning to play a song incorrectly then having to unlearn and then re-learn it. When you are starting out on a piece, play it more slowly than you think you need to, and ensure you are doing everything correctly.
Have short term goals for each practice session. If you insist on mindless play-throughs or only playing scales you will quickly become bored, and not only will you not improve, you will demotivate yourself to practice. Ask yourself what you want to achieve, or if you’re not sure, ask your teacher to give you some exercises and goals.
Don’t always play a practice piece or musical composition you’re learning from the beginning. Learn the parts and then stitch them together.
Get on board with technology. With the abundance of smartphones, laptops and tablets as well as the multitude of apps and webpages, there’s no excuse not to have what you need at your fingertips. Try getting hold of a metronome app, a timer app and a tuner app for the bare minimum for a good practice session.
Don’t forget to give yourself rewards for practicing. At the end of your session give yourself a few minutes to play or sing something you really love as a way of giving yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.