By Emily Kline
Success and enjoyment with playing an instrument is best achieved when the student (you or your child) has embraced the principles surrounding practicing. Young and old musicians alike benefit from creating and implementing a customized regiment. Advice on specific practicing techniques and styles vary, but generally, the following advice will set your foundation for progression and enjoyment.
Planning and adjusting your practice goals should be ongoing and a partnership with you and your instructor. What will you practice? How long and how often? What time or times of day work best for your schedule and when you’re most alert? Should you work on more than one piece at a time? Where is the best environment for your sessions? What additional materials or tools will help your session? How will you record your progress and questions? All these questions need to be addressed and revisited periodically by the student (and parents at times) and the instructor.
Repetition and challenge will help you grow as a musician. Closely tied is the consistent time you allocate for practice. This does not necessarily mean daily but missing months of practicing will not foster progress. It’s better to practice four times a week consistently than to set a goal of every day that when a day is missed, you feel a sense of failure. Busy life schedules often prevent a daily, uninterrupted 30 minute session so it’s better to practice in three 10 minute chunks than to give up on the day because the day is full. Journalizing your short sessions will help you remember the baby steps toward the weekly goal. Cramming your entire weeks’ worth of practice into one afternoon rarely works.
How to Practice
Over time, you’ll learn how you practice best. How long can you sit without your mind wandering? What time of day is best (most feel the most alert in the morning)? Can I practice in a busy place or do I need absolute silence? Do pieces that I love to play help me practice longer and enjoy the instrument? Do my pieces challenge me and stretch my skills? Setting yourself up for a successful practice session takes all these questions into consideration. Some answers you’ll discover after a few experiments but the key is to customize an approach that is fun and polishes your skills.
Ask your instructor how they practice and what works well for them and other students they teach. Teachers understand that the real learning happens during practice sessions and not during the lesson. It’s frustrating for teachers to review the same pieces each week and not see improvement. They want the student to succeed so ask for practice session advice they think will work for you.
Many teachers encourage students to tackle the most difficult pieces or techniques first in your practice session because your mind and muscle memory are at its freshest at the beginning. For many songs, this is often times not at the beginning of the piece. Working slowly through the difficult sections and then adding in the easy parts offers the most learning and a faster route to mastery. Taking notes on the sheet music and in a practice journal are critical to learning. The best musicians mark their music to remind them of the important spots and avoid repeating mistakes. Building up your speed to the intended pace is one of the last refinements to playing a piece. Many successful musicians take time away from their instrument to research a particular piece and think about the composer’s intent with notations like tempo and accents.
Many musicians have struggled at times with practice sessions and have felt stuck in a rut with their progression. The internet and other sources offer much help for specific for your instrument and hurdle. Your instructor is your biggest cheerleader and coach regarding your practice sessions because of their experience with you and other students. If you practice your plan consistently and take the coaching of your instructor, you’ll flourish as a musician.