What follows is a list of thoughts that I came up with in an effort to prepare a lecture/seminar that I am going to give my senior high and junior high students tomorrow. It ended up being quite the narrative, and I hope that I can get through it all in one class period! Feel free to use any of the listed thoughts and ideas, and please share if you have anything to add! Exciting side note – first post this school year!! Woohoo! Enjoy!
Thoughts On Practicing
Follow the 3 Golden Rules
- Go Slow!! You should never make a mistake when you are practicing! Why? Because you should go slow enough. If you don’t, then you are practicing mistakes and thus wasting valuable practice time. This means start working under tempo NO MATTER HOW SLOW IT IS! Then you can gradually speed up. This will save a lot of time in the long run.
- Work small sections. Isolate where your problems are. (This also requires you to be a good listener while you are playing). Where is the trouble? Between 2 specific notes, or between 3? Is it just two beats of a measure that you’re having trouble with? Just work on that part! You do not need to practice stuff you can already play! For example, in a long run of notes that is difficult, start with 2 only, then when you feel comfortable with that, add one more note, etc.
- Related to the above – REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT! You must repeat these slow, small sections until you know them as second nature! This is how we train our brains/muscle memory to play the passage correctly.
A good minimum practice time goal should be at least 1 hour EVERY day if you want to see real results, but…….quality of practice time is far more important than quantity…it’s what you do with your time that’s important! The most important part is that you spend time with the instrument EVERY DAY (outside the band rehearsal). Remember, our job during rehearsal is to take what you have worked on in the practice room and put it together with everyone else. With that in mind, set a goal for each session, based on the amount of time available to you. Maybe your goal is to simply get better at one phrase if your time is short. Remember, even if you just make one thing better during your practice time, you are still getting better!
GET A METRONOME!! This serves many purposes, but two of the most important – you begin to develop great time & it keeps you from increasing the tempos you are practicing at too quickly. When we GRADUALLY speed up tempos that we are working on, we then give our brain/muscles time to learn. When we speed up too quickly, we don’t learn correctly (and are probably practicing mistakes).
WHEN YOU PRACTICE, IT SHOULD BE PERFECT…NO MISTAKES!! Why? Because we should go slow enough to make sure there are no mistakes.
These techniques seem counter-intiutive. It seems like this will make it take longer to learn a given passage or piece. BUT, in the long run you will actually learn the piece/passage much more quickly! This is because you are practicing perfectly, without mistakes. The purpose of practice is to train our brains and muscles to work together at specific times when music is read or heard.
For any performance, you want whatever you are playing to become second-nature. You must be 110% prepared, because you lose 10% just to nerves.
Individual practice is what will set you apart from other musicians your age.
Many times, practicing your instrument does not provide immediate results. Such are all good things in life! But, dedication to it and your instrument will pay HUGE dividends over time. If you follow the methods above, you will be surprised how much more quickly you will improve.
Do not allow yourself to get frustrated. It happens to the best of us when we are practicing! If you find yourself getting frustrated while working on a particular passage, simply put the instrument down for a minute or two and walk away. Go get a drink, or take a lap around the building and come back to it a few minutes later. You will come back fresh, having given your mind and spirit a short break from your hard work!
Practicing your instrument should also include fundamentals. I begin EVERY practice session with a tonal warm-up to get my mind and instrument ready to play. I then continue by playing my major & minor scales with a metronome. For me, this is a routine that I have established over many years…clearly, I had to learn those warm-ups and scales first. Practice cannot just be about working on your repertoire. Granted, that is a large part of the practice time, but you also just need to get better at playing your instrument in general…this is done through practicing fundamentals that are specific to your instrument, although ALL instrumentalists should know their major and minor scales AT LEAST 2 octaves.
Go take lessons! Individual time with a teacher on your instrument will be very helpful in helping to direct your practice and individual learning.
LISTEN TO GREAT MUSIC (AND GREAT MUSICIANS ON YOUR INSTRUMENT)! How else will you know what your instrument is supposed to sound like? You need to have a “picture in your ear” of what you should sound like. The internet is a great resource for finding recordings, but a word of caution here – not everything on the internet is good. See Mr. Butchy if you are looking for suggestions of who to look for on your instrument. Also, listen to recordings of your band pieces. Mr. Butchy makes them available to you on the web. You should be listening to these recordings A LOT!!
All of this information is based directly on my own experience (and struggles) with learning how to practice. I guarantee that if you follow these suggestions, you will improve by leaps and bounds!