Taking music lessons or classes can be a lot of fun. We get to make music with others and work with a teacher who helps us learn new pieces or get through things we are struggling with. They teach us meanings and functionality of this new language we’re learning and help us to discover our creativity.
Music is supposed to be fun so why do we have to go through the hassle of practicing our technique or our pieces over and over?
Your music teacher aims to push you to the next level over the course of months or a year so if you’re coming back to every lesson and they have to re-teach you the same things over every single week, no one ends up happy. You’ll feel miserable because you’ll be told the same things week after week. Your teacher will feel challenged having to keep teaching the same thing to you week after week when they know you have the potential to do more.
We are all busy, though, so what’s the best way to make practice actually useful and less painful? There are lots of great articles around online to give you all kinds of ideas around how to practice. Here are a few suggestions based on my own experiences to get you thinking:
You can’t cram. Whether it’s 15 minutes or 30+ minutes, it’s important to develop a good habit of time spent regularly on your instrument. You wouldn’t save up one day each week to do 300 sit-ups all at once right before a weekly session with a personal trainer. You’d try to do 50 sit-ups six days per week, right? The same applies with music practice – efficient and consistent practice sessions are the way to go.
That said, don’t stress if you need to miss a day or two. Stressful practice is not going to get you anywhere except feeling crabby. In fact, many teachers say that aiming for four to five days of practice each week is perfect for most students.
Focus and choose. Don’t just sit down and blast through each thing you’re working on once and then jump up and move on. This is particularly important when you’re working on a piece and there are parts you know well and parts you struggle with. Pick one of the parts you struggle with and make that the focus of today’s practice.
Slow down a little! The tendency is to play the parts you know well very quickly and then slow right down for the trickier parts to fumble through them, or even ignore them entirely! Work out the tricky parts on their own and practice those measures until they are more comfortable. Then play the bars leading up to that section so you eliminate the stress as you approach the (formerly) tricky part. Now you can practice the entire piece at a slower tempo so that you can get through the piece without stopping at all. Ease up that tempo a little so that you are getting the piece all the way through until you are finally able to do it entirely up to speed.
Fingerings are there for a reason. While you may find it frustrating to pay attention to fingerings, there is a good reason that someone took the time to write them in there – because they likely make sense and make playing a passage easier! Make sure you pay attention to fingerings right from the beginning.
Have fun! Just as learning anything new can be tough sometimes – there is certainly an ebb and flow to music learning, as I’ll talk about in a future post – you can mix things up to keep it engaging. Focus on mastering a really tough few measures for 10 – 15 minutes but then switch it up and play something fun that you know really well. Or just spend a few minutes improvising and see where your imagination takes you. Then go back to those few measures with a fresh mind and you’ll see results!
Keep working on developing good practice habits and you’ll see your playing improve in no time!