Effective Practice (That Doesn’t Take Forever)
Let’s face it– sometimes practicing can get boring. Rehearsing the same songs over and over can at times take the fun out of the music. But you can’t move on to new pieces until you’ve got the basics and the concepts down from what you’re learning now. So what can you do?
Creativity can be the key to effective practice. But responsible creativity is of the utmost importance. You can’t begin just creatively playing your music on inverted staves, upside down, while pretending to ride a horse backwards, and then expect to be able to play your piece correctly, whether or not you find doing that musically creative. Instead I would suggest some of the following ideas.
First, eliminate your distractions when it’s time to practice. I guarantee Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have his cell phone next to him while he was painting the Mona Lisa,or even friends sitting by chatting and giggling with him. He was probably focused, working, and enjoying the art. Your music practice should be the same way. Take a moment to rid yourself of distractions so you can practice clear and focused, effectively solidifying your practice.
Second, Relax. You can’t be very creative musically if you’re uptight, nervous, worried or antsy. Music is a fluid art, ever changing, and very loose (yes, even on those rigid fast paced songs). Just take a second and catch your breath and let yourself prepare to practice.
Third, before you start, go over your piece in your head. If it’s voice, clarinet, guitar, piano or piccolo, it doesn’t matter. Take a second and play over the piece mentally, remember your problem spots, review your notes, and set a reasonable goal for how you want your mental music to sound when you begin playing.
Fourth, if you’re struggling, play it slower AND play it with a metronome. It may be frustrating, but it works! Once you get something solid slowly, the sooner you can make it solid quickly. But slow and steady is the key. The turtle only beat the rabbit because he kept plugging along and the pace he needed (without giving up). You can also Isolate difficult pieces. Play just one measure, the next, add them together, THEN move to the following measure. Drill the problem spots. It’s a lot easier to prepare a measure than an entire song, so take it piece by piece.
If you’re still struggling, take ONE measure and play it backwards (or sing it backwards). It will seem silly, and be quite difficult. Try that a few times, then playing it forward the right way, much of the time will seem very easy. If you’re struggling with a small section, like a jump or phrase, turn that section into a warm up and play it (or sing it) in all sorts of registers! Soon it will just be something you do, instead of something you struggle with.
Fifth, make your practice times short and sweet. Yes, long practices are sometimes fun and necessary, but coming up and playing a 5 measure passage every hour can work wonders. If you take just 5 minutes on that passage every hour, you can get an extra 30 minutes of practice in in one day (apart from regular practice), and you won’t feel like you’ve done much at all!
Just remember, don’t get frustrated. Practice does NOT make perfect. Practice makes Permanent. Even the best musicians make mistakes sometimes. It’s part of the magic. Music is never the EXACT same twice, and as soon as it is the exact same, it’s because it’s now placid with no real feeling.