Updated: Jul 29, 2022
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY. This saying could not be more applicable than it is to instrumental music practice. Below are some strategies that will significantly improve the quality of your practice time.
Although as teachers, we often tell our music students to practice a number of minutes or hours a day, what matters is not how long they practice for but the quality of that practice time. If the student sits down and practices the wrong way for 2 hours, they are teaching themselves to play the wrong way. It then becomes extremely difficult to get rid of those habits they developed for many hours and days during a 1-hour lesson.
Reality Check: We are Naturally Lazy!
By having been a student most of my life and observing the behavior of those around me I discovered that yes, we gravitate towards being lazy and most of our life is a battle against it. This is not something to be ashamed of! It's human nature. Just because we're naturally inclined to be lazy doesn't mean we are lazy.
Mindless music practicing is far too common. Sometimes we just play through the music without actively focusing on improving. We think that by playing a passage over and over it will improve.
Unfortunately, this is not the case at all (you might as well wave a twig around and say "abracadabra").
Having a routine and a list of strategies really helps overcome the existential hurdle that is laziness. You've won half the battle by simply walking over to your music instrument and sitting down to practice. Now, don't be lazy and read the strategies below ;)
Create a schedule and routine that works for you.
1. Listen to/familiarize yourself with the piece
2. Listen to the piece while looking at the score
3. Identify meter, key signature, tempo marking, etc.
4. Break down music into sections
5. Create a schedule for the week so that you can work on each section individually during a given day. (Do not play from beginning to end every single day)
6. Identify potential challenges within each section
Write down fingerings for these potential challenges
From that point on, make sure to stick to written fingering. Otherwise, there will be inconsistency and inaccuracy
7. Practice without dynamics or pedal to focus on the technical components and to hear each individual sound clearly.
8. When playing through a section, if you make a mistake, STOP.
If this mistake happens repeatedly, mark it but be specific- don’t just circle it as there is no meaning attached to that and it won’t change much. (i.e, add an accidental, write down the note name, mark it in a different color, etc.)
Isolate different elements of that passage (separate hands, rhythm, melody, hand motions, etc.)
Do not only practice the area of the mistake, but also practice the transitions in and out of it
Change the rhythm :
-Create groupings for the passage, (i.e, only practice the four notes of the mistake, then add 1-4 more notes that come before) slowly incrementing the number of notes until you are playing the entire passage.
-Consider working backwards
9. If your instrument allows it, practice measures in clusters (all notes pressed down at once as a chord, even if there is dissonance)
-Helps to identify harmonic progression
-Helps with memorization
-Requires reading ahead, as opposed to looking at one note at a time
10. When adding dynamics, double check that you are not accidentally changing the tempo - Practice with a metronome.
11. Once each section is coming together well, gradually add more from other sections (for example, on the same day practice section one and half of section two)
*Take into consideration how you’re feeling on a given day and which section it might be more effective to practice. It is okay to alter the weekly schedule if it results in more efficient practicing*
12. Once you have combined all sections, record yourself and assess.
Once again, identify areas of challenges and repeat the steps above for those areas.
13. Even if you think you know the piece, always make time for slow practice. It might serve as a review to solidify passages that are technically overlooked when played fast and with dynamics.
This is a lot of information, I know. But I found that these strategies really helped as I aged and tackled more difficult repertoire (otherwise I'd just stare not knowing where to start).
These music practice strategies help break down difficulty into more simple components, thus making it less overwhelming to learn a new piece of music.
Remember, practice doesn't make perfect (perfect doesn't exist)! - Good practice makes extraordinary playing.
I hope these strategies help in your musical journey!
Miami House of Creative Arts Team
Written By: Rosangel Perez
July 29, 2022
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