Practice Smarter! A Simple Guide to Improving Progress
“Perfect practice makes perfect”
This was once remarked legendary coach Vince Lombardi. So does this mean we should be perfect all the time, even in our practice?
However, what we can do is practice smarter. By following a few simple guidelines, you will see a dramatic improvement in your child’s progress and an ultimate increase in their enjoyment of their instrument.
The “Where & When”
Just as in real estate, establishing a solid practice routine begins with location! Ensure your child has a quiet space to work, free from distractions such as television, unrelated technology and siblings. Nearly as important as the where to practice is also when to do so. Try to find a relatively consistent time in the day when your child is most alert and focused. This may vary depending on age and extracurricular activities (ie. after school, before hockey practice from 4-430pm).
The length of practice time will also vary depending on the age, focus, and skill level of the student. That being said, 15-30 minutes/day is ideally the minimum amount of time for anyone over the age of 6 to allow the student to both progress and retain the skills in a meaningful way.
In today’s busy world, life happens, and so it is completely understandable that sometimes we may not have the time to practice for a day or two. However, it is far better to play even 5-10 minutes daily rather than trying to cram a week’s worth of practice into one day, as it is simply not productive, nor enjoyable! If you endeavour to allot time each day in your schedule for music practice, then this can easily be avoided.
“It is far better to play even 5-10 minutes daily rather than trying to cram a week’s worth of practice into one day”
The “What & How”
Once you have established the “Where & When” of your practice routine, you can easily tackle the “What & How”. Whether you are blasting out a Beatles tune or mastering Mozart, the principles of practice are essentially the same and can be broken into manageable musical morsels.
Start by setting an attainable goal for each day’s or week’s practice; your teacher can help you with this as. For example: “I will learn to play Fur Elise hands together, a line a day; or I will master the E pentatonic scale by practicing one position a day”. By consistently creating new goals, the student will be continuously challenged, avoiding tedious over-practicing of simpler sections while improving their technical abilities and boredom!
Breaking it Down
Also keeping a record of these tasks and accomplishments will serve to both motivate the student, while keeping them organized and on-task. Begin with a simple warmup, such as scales or triads to loosen up before moving onto technique and/or songs & pieces. When encountering more difficult parts, break them down into small manageable pieces to master, and then gradually plug them back into the larger piece.
If you are having great difficulty with a particular part, do not get frustrated. Simply put it aside for the time being and work on something different for a while. You can always come back later! Sometimes we just need some time for our brains and muscle memory to process what we have just learned. If you still have difficulty with it, simply make a note and show it to the teacher to tackle together at the next lesson.
“When encountering more difficult parts, break them down into small manageable pieces, and then gradually plug them back into the larger piece.”
Essential Tools for Better Practice
Although they are sometimes tedious and annoying, metronomes are an essential tool of the musical trade. Whenever possible, try using them and your rhythm will improve dramatically. Another indispensable tool is a tuner. Do not begin your practice without first tuning up, as an out of tune instrument is just like riding a bike with a flat tire, you can do it, but it is difficult and tiresome, and can damage your bike, or in a musician’s case, your sense of pitch!
Today’s technology provides us with an unimaginable wealth of tools, many of which are literally at our fingertips in the form of apps, websites and of course YouTube. Although most are incredibly informative and beneficial, some less reputable sources may incite poor habits or teach entirely incorrect technique, so make sure you check with your teacher before using anything new. Method books are also a terrific resource to progress in a more structured practice and gain new specific skills, but check these out with your teacher first.
“An out of tune instrument is just like riding a bike with a flat tire…”
Finally, have fun! Although it is important to progress technically, music above all, is meant to be enjoyed, and your practice routine should be no different. Ensure to allot time at the end of each practice session for fun and games, whether it be trying to figure out a popular melody, writing your own song or simply exploring the capabilities of your instrument! Ending each session on a positive note is essential to maintaining a students’ passion to play and expand their musical horizons.
There are many other ways in which to enrich your practice experience, which will be explained in more detail in the near future, however starting with establishing a regular routine by following any or all of these points will provide the student with a solid foundation they can expand upon. Remember: Practicing Smarter, not harder is what makes a more Perfect Practice!