Perfecting how to practice your instrument takes time and patience in knowing what works best for you and demands both focus and discipline. These latter two principles can be tricky for anyone learning an instrument or maintaining and developing their skills, regardless of age and ability.
The idea that ‘practice make perfect’ is an easy throw away cliche that could confuse many a younger, less experienced musician, who may still to learn to differentiate between playing and actual practice. There are other phrases which I prefer to use with my students, like, ‘practice doesn’t always sound pretty’, or , ‘practice make permanent’. Take the last statement for example, how often do you hear someone play a section of music over and over, stumbling over the same areas of either the rhythm or note reading and when it finally sorts itself out, move straight onto something new?! I would recommend a couple of suggestions to try and avoid this form of ‘practice’ or habit. If you have identified a ‘tricky’ section of music, then firstly you have already isolated an area to hone in on and practice. Find a metronome or download a metronome app (see links below) – plently available for free if you don’t have one, and find a tempo/pulse that allows the section of music to be played without hesitation or a stumble. Mark down the tempo that works for you in your designated progress/planner book and begin to play around with the music – try playing it a different dynamics, vary the articulation, ear mark any key note or rhythm, or if possible stick it down or up an octave. It’s one way to allow the music notation to become ‘3D’ – becoming more alive, expressive and most importantly more easily manageable to perform. The tempo by this point can be gradually increased and brought up to the suggested speed.
I asked a couple of colleagues about their top tips on ways to perfect practice: Here are their top 10 tips.
1. Small, regular amounts. Avoid ‘cramming’ or binge practicing, especially prior to lesson or performance.
2. Avoid practicing when tired and unfocused.
3. Start practice with most difficult sections, while fresh and alert.
4. Vary practice from what you focus on, where and time of practice. Randomise practice.
5. Divide what time you have to practice into sections e.g 10 minute slots.
6. Minimise playing though a song or piece of music until ready and perform to friends or family.
7. Record practice. Use recordings like an audio diary. Soundcloud is a good online resource for this purpose. See link.
8. If your attention starts to wander – Stop practicing and do something else e.g make a cup of tea
9. Listen to as much music as possible for inspiration.
10. Learn music you enjoy and find out as much as you can about the piece, song and composer. It will help with your understanding of the music and put it into some form of context.