Smart strategies you need to make music practices count and keep your chops growing
The stereotype of a kid unhappily plunking away at piano practice is one that’s richly deserved. Countless kids (and adults) have been turned off to music as they’ve come to see the learning process as a miserable chore.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Yes, practice is essential to becoming a good musician. But no, mindlessly slogging through practice won’t help get you there. What follows are some ideas to help make your rehearsals pay rich dividends. But before we look at them, let’s first get clear about what practice isn’t.
What practice isn’t
Practice isn’t jamming with your friends. Practice is not noodling on the couch with your guitar. And air guitar definitely doesn’t count as practice. While these things are fun and may even help you play better, practice is a more formal, measurable process with a clearer purpose.
Which leads us to our first practice strategy:
Avoid seeing practice as a chore - Sure, there will be days you won’t want to practice. And there will be days when your fingers just won’t do your bidding. But you probably came to music for the pleasure and satisfaction it offers. Keeping those motives at the forefront of your mind can help get you through those tougher sessions. Also set reasonable time limits based on your concentration span. If you find that 15 minutes is about how long you stay focused, that’s okay. Better to schedule a couple or three shorter practices than one long one that you end up slogging through.
Find the right practice space - That of course will be determined by what you play. A drummer will be looking for a setting entirely different from an acoustic guitarist. The key is to find a spot where you can focus without disturbing others. The key is to see that spot as one that’s devoted to practice. That’ll help get you into the mental space you want for a rewarding practice session.
Get your stuff together - Your tuner, music, notes, and other supplies should ideally live in a gig bag or other container that’s portable and keeps your gear safe. The trick is to have everything you might need on hand so you don’t have to interrupt practice to go find it.
Have a plan - Aside from setting a reasonable time frame for the practice session and allowing time for your warm-up rituals, have a specific goal in mind. This might be to complete a given part or song in a tutorial or nail a particularly challenging passage. Be concrete. The goal should be clear and measurable. If you’re a morning person, schedule your practices earlier if possible. The same is true for night owls (so long as you can get away with it).
Physically challenge yourself - Research says that when we’re trying to master a difficult task, adding another physical challenge on top of it will help. For example, if you learn to play your instrument while standing on one leg, once you return to your normal posture, playing becomes easier.
Avoid unconscious practice - Once your focus goes out the window and you begin practicing mechanically, you are no longer in learning mode. If you find your attention faltering, try moving to a different task. Also, starting your practice the same way every time is a recipe for boredom and loss of focus.
Don’t let technology trip you up - There are a lot of tech practice tools out there ranging from essentials such as tuners to electronic trainers and the like. The trick here is to avoid getting caught up in the technology at the cost of your practice time.
Try practicing without your instrument - Many musicians find that visualizing enhances their performance. Have your music handy on commutes and other periods of down time.
Record your practice sessions - Although it can sometimes be a little painful on the ego, recording your practices is very revealing. Using a camera can help disclose postural and technique issues. But allow time after practice sessions before viewing or listening to them. Listening with refreshed ears will help with objectivity. And having these recordings will be a great reminder of how far you’ve come!
Got some practice tips to share? Tell us about ’em below.