Aside from those goals, I have a constant mantra of self-improvement in my life that includes my musical life in the form of practicing. So let's break down all of the things that I have to practice on a weekly basis. I have to practice piano, mallet and orchestral percussion, guitar, drum set, and of course composition. That makes five incredibly important musical skills in my life that I have to practice and improve on, and without a dedicated schedule (more on that next week) and practice routine, I would never accomplish anything.
However, if my time as a music teacher has taught me anything, it is that most students do not know how to set up a proper and efficient practice session. Therefore, I have decided to include here a few tips, guidelines, and elements that every productive practice session should have.
Quality over Quantity: This is more of a tip than anything else. The quality of your practice session is significantly more important than the length of your practice session (quantity). I have spent hours in the practice room and accomplished nothing by being unfocused and not having a true idea of what I wanted to accomplish, but I have also made incredible strides in much shorter 30 minute sessions by having a highly focused and planned out practice time.
Practice Consistently, Don't Marathon It: Tyler, what do you mean by this? Well a marathon practice session is what I call that super long practice time that everyone puts in when they know they haven't practiced all week, but they have a lesson or performance coming up in the next 48 hours or so. These sessions may be long and arduous, but they don't accomplish much. Instead, shoot for a more consistent schedule of quality practice time. Someone who practices 30 minutes a day is going to be better prepared than the person who practiced 7 hours the night before every single time.
Have a Plan and a Goal: By this point, I have mentioned a "focused" practice session is beneficial multiple times. A focused practice session has two main elements: a goal and a plan. The best way for me to illustrate this is to provide an example. I am learning the guitar solo to "Just What I Needed" by The Cars right now. The solo can be split into multiple phrases and right now I am working on the first and second phrases. So my goal for a practice session may be to be able to play through the first and second phrases of the solo without stopping at a slow tempo. My plan for that practice session could be to have a warm-up, then practice the first phrase slowly trying not to stop, and finally to add on the second phrase in chunks until I can play the whole thing. Having a goal and a plan to accomplish that goal provides focus and ultimately purpose to a practice session. It let's you know why you are there, and what you are there to improve.
Have a Warm-up: Speaking of warm-ups, you should have one! Warm-ups set the tone of a practice session by focusing the mind and body on what you are there to accomplish. It gets you ready to begin to accomplish your goals. This is a great time to work on technique, scales, sight-reading, etc. Your warm-up should be five to fifteen minutes depending on the length of time you have to practice. Don't overthink this, and absolutely do NOT let your warm-up become the practice session or overshadow the goals that you set.
Have a Routine: My last practice tip is to have a routine for your practicing. This goes along with having a plan. As humans we are creatures of habit, and we like to fall into routines. You can make your practice session run so much smoother if you have a regular practicing routine that you follow. Here is a sample routine for a 30 minute practice session:
Warm-up: 5 minutes
Play through the song/exercise/section to be worked on in its entirety once or twice: 5 minutes
The tough stuff (working towards your goal): 15 minutes
Play through the song/exercise/section again in its entirety and make notes of what needs work for next time: 5 minutes
A routine such as this provides a time to warm-up, a time to examine the larger task at hand (learning a song/exercise/etc.), a time to accomplish the goal of the session, and finally a time for relaxation, evaluation, and reflection on the practice session. This last step is crucial as it shows you what still needs to be improved on, and helps you to set future practice goals.
Have FUN: Okay, I lied last time. One more tip. HAVE FUN! I would imagine that most all of us got into music because it is something that we enjoy. It is something that we have fallen in love with. Don't lose sight of that even when practicing. For me, I use that last five minutes of the above routine, not just for reflection, but for having fun. Realize the progress that you are making and never forget why music is something that you do.
That is all I have for this week! Did you find the above tips helpful? Are there practice tips that I didn't mention above that you think are must includes? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you for reading, and I will see you next Monday for another installment of "Notes on Notes!"