The Art of Practicing - theHumm September 2019
The Art of Practicing - theHumm September 2019
By Tony Stuart
I have been teaching high school for a long time, and have been a musician even longer. For musicians, practicing is absolutely essential in order to improve, but how to practice is something that must be learned just like any other skill. It is something that I still have to work on. I’m going to share some tips that have worked for me, and offer suggestions for those of you with children in music lessons.
When I was in university, practicing was easy because there was always motivation. I wanted to improve and was immersed in an environment of excellence and achievement, surrounded by many fabulous musicians. For four years I feel like I lived in a practice room, and was never at a loss for what to work on. Now, as a professional player, there is always the next gig to get ready for. However, the time between gigs provides a different challenge.
The key to consistent practicing is to get rid of distractions. That has become increasingly difficult in a world where we have Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix and a whole host of other diversions, and I’ve caught myself “falling down the rabbit hole” and wasting time. I often hear students complain that they have no time, but they spend hours every evening on social media. There is a difference between being busy and being productive. Below are a few suggestions that have worked for me.
Plan and Prepare
One of my favourite expressions is: “failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. Have a plan for your session, and write it down. I structure a practice session so that I spend some time warming up, work on some technique (scales and patterns), work on new material, and then finish with something fun that you simply enjoy playing.
Keep Practice Sessions Shorter
I try to keep practice sessions under a half-hour, and will sometimes use a timer. It is really important to focus intently for a short period of time, and then take a break to allow your brain time to process what you have been working on.
Keep a Schedule
Put your practice session on the calendar, and don’t allow yourself to do anything else during that time. Many people do this for workouts, and a practice session really is a type of workout, so this is a good strategy to follow.
It is important as parents that you recognize that once the initial excitement of learning a new instrument has worn off, most kids won’t want to practice. This is normal. Schedule short blocks of time where your child is expected to be playing their instrument, but keep those blocks short. As they progress further in lessons and in school, they will have concerts and playing exams to prepare for, so motivation won’t be as much of a problem.
One of the buzzwords in today’s society is “mindfulness”. I think that I am more mindful about my own playing than I was twenty-five or thirty years ago. Back then I was able to spend hours every day in a practice room. Now, I don’t always have that luxury. I believe that for most of us, approaching practice sessions with purpose, keeping our focus for short periods of time, developing routines, and taking some time to play purely for enjoyment are the keys to steady self-improvement.
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