Practice is a word that strikes fear into parents’ hearts and can induce groans from the kids. It needn’t be this way. Follow our tips to make practice easy and remember effective practice is learnt – it’s not mysterious magic. We know you’re raring to go back to your instrument, so here are the headlines straight up:
- Have a plan so you know what to do
- Remove distractions and stay focused
- Go for quality not quantity
- Target what you can’t do, not what you can
- Go at a speed that you can manage
- Repeat bits to build muscle memory, but do it mindfully
- Take time to recognise the progress you are making and enjoy yourself
Know what to practise
Your teacher should give practice notes and they will outline the steps to take over the week before the next session. There is often lots to think about and I find it can be useful to turn any notes into questions. Rather than ‘practise my new piece’, ask yourself ‘can I play my new piece using the marked fingering? Can I play my new piece at 60 beats per minute without any gaps? Can I play my new piece without looking at the music?
Quantity vs quality
Good practice is not just about the amount of time spent practising, but also about the quality of each practice session. Like any other physical activity, building muscle memory is a big part of progress. There is no way to avoid this, and time spent with the instrument is hugely important. The key here is little and often…and of good quality. Start with a speed that makes it easy. An important part of embedding muscle memory is accuracy. Playing a piece too fast and with mistakes will inevitably lead to mistakes being embedded in the muscle memory.
When repeating a passage of music, the mind can wander so stay mindful and focused on what you are trying to achieve with what you are doing.
Some common traps
There are a few common traps to avoid: Practice, don’t play. Playing what you already know, although fun, will not advance your ability. Think of practice time as different to play time and make time for both. Are you focused? Get rid of the distractions. Turn off your devices, focus on the job in hand and ask not to be disturbed. This is precious time.
If you feel like you’ve got these tips embedded into your thinking, maybe it’s time to ask your teacher for more practice tips. There’s always something new to learn!