Practice smarter, not harder
This is for the parent whose student is struggling to get past a piece and feel they’ve hit a wall.
Most practice is the following:
Repetition – Play the same spot over and over again.
Muscle memory – You play what’s in your memory and what “feels” right.
Mixed – You play the same spot over and over based on what feels right.
While there is some of this happening in practice, relying on these solely is the slowest way to improve your playing.
So, how do I practice smart?
If you watch sports, basketball players celebrate their two point jump-shots. Football players celebrate moving the ball 3 yards. A golfer celebrates making par. All of these have in common the success of the little goal.
Each big victory is won by successive little victories, and a lot of little failures.
So, follow these steps…
- Set a goal on what you’re trying to practice – One line, two lines, the first page, etc.
- Have a measure of your success by playing with a metronome – Set it for the slowest tempo that you can play smoothly, and build up speed as you conquer each tempo.
- Pick a good time of day – When are you most awake, alert and have energy? That’s when you should practice.
- Don’t rely on memory – Most of my students try to memorize their piece as fast as possible. This is the worst thing to do. Memory is not very reliable in a pinch. Use your sheet, write in symbols for hard parts. Make sure that what you write in your music helps you play easier.
- Reward yourself – After you can do a difficult part, reward yourself with something, let your teacher know how you worked through it, and ask him or her for some type of reward.
Learning an instrument isn’t easy, and we’ve got to make it fun. The best way to make it fun is to feel like you’re doing something right. So, use the steps above to get the most out of practice. Practice should be deliberate and challenging, with the sweet taste of success at the end.
If you’re having too much trouble, stop and work on something easier. Make a note of what was hard, and ask your teacher to help in the next lesson. Your teacher will be able to see what’s difficult and show you how to make it easier. After they show you, write it down on your sheet music so that you can remember. Because we now know that we shouldn’t rely on our memory.