Music Education, Practice Tips

Developing Great Practice Habits

Anyone who picks up an instrument probably has some ambitious expectations about what they’re going to play. That is awesome and keeping those big goals in mind can be a good thing. But there are branches off the road to those goals that can lead to discouragement. With that in mind, I want to talk about practice habits and expectations of our practice.

Structure Your Practice Sessions

Most of us don’t have as much time as we’d like to practice. That just means we have to make the most of the time that we do have. Maybe you can only squeeze in 20 minutes of practice a day. Rather than sifting through your notes, playing a little of this and a little of that, having a schedule will help you focus on spending that 20 minutes wisely. For example, 5 minutes warming up with scales, 5 minutes practicing technique, 5 minutes working on your main goal song, and 5 minutes of free play to wind down. Use a timer! It’s amazing how fast 20 minutes flies by and it’s not uncommon to run out of time before you’ve even started!

Don’t Compare Yourself To People On The Internet

I have students who will tell me about someone they saw online playing the song they are currently working on SO FAST or simply WITHOUT A MISTAKE. YouTube is a fantastic resource for tutorials, examples, or just to see what people are capable of achieving. It can be inspiring if you have a “if they can do it, so can I” attitude. But sometimes when we’re struggling with a piece, watching people “show off” can be frustrating. We can’t forget that other people also have to practice and most people aren’t on YouTube showing you how many times they had to play that measure to get it perfect. We don’t all learn at the same pace and if you only have 20 MINUTES a day to practice you can’t hold yourself to the same standard as someone who practices 4 HOURS a day. It’s easy to tell this to ourselves but that alone may not relieve the impulse. Be aware of yourself and take note of what helps and what just bums you out. And that brings us to:

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

You are awesome. You work hard at your craft, always looking for new ways to improve your musical competency because you know that learning never stops. That doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally celebrate the work we’ve done thus far. Go back through your notes, or into a previous lesson book. Find a piece that looks easy now but you remember at the time how intimidating it was. Crush that song. Feel it bend to your whim, swing it where it was never meant to be swung, throw in some embellishments on the repeat because it would be utterly boring if you didn’t. How far you’ve come. This is cake and it’s delicious. And that song you’re working on now? The big one with all those flats? Pretty soon that song will be cake too. It just needs a little more time.

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Finding the Time to Practice

It’s a busy world we live in, isn’t it? So many of us run from one activity to the next, whether it’s work or school, sports, music lessons, an art class or a night visiting friends. In the midst of our busy lives, it can be tough to carve out time to practice. Here are a few reasons to make the time for it this month.

Practice Makes Perfect

Well, that’s the saying, right? The reality is that perfection might sound nice, but even concert pianists will tell you they never have a perfect performance! Nevertheless, the more we practice, the more we can reliably perform our song well. With each repetition, we’re more likely to play the notes and get our rhythms correct. That frees us up to think about our interpretation, our phrasing, our dynamics…you know, the fun stuff!

Practice Makes You Less Nervous

Believe it or not, the more you practice, the easier it is to get up in front of someone else and perform. That’s because the more you can reliably play a piece for yourself, the more likely you will be to reproduce it when you’ve got performance jitters. Will an audience make you play it worse? There’s a good chance of that. But as you perform more often (i.e. as you practice performing), you can work on channeling the audience’s excitement, and your own excitement, into a stronger performance.

Practice Develops Discipline

Want to develop better habits? Whether you’d like to eat healthier, exercise daily or get enough sleep, all of these things are easier when we make our healthy choices into healthy habits. Likewise, if we teach ourselves to practice for five minutes every day, we develop the discipline required to commit to anything! This is a great lesson for children, but it’s a lesson we can use as adults too.

Why do you find the time to practice? If you don’t, did this give you any ideas on how to develop a practice habit?