If you are learning an instrument, the question of how to practice should be one of the most relevant questions you ask yourself. Paying for and attending lessons is a useful and important first step in stream-lining our progress but the most important element is the time that we dedicate between the lessons to playing our instrument(s). How we use our time is at the core of how fruitful our practice will be. For the benefit of my pupils I thought it would be useful to list some ideas on how to approach practice so that it is an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
- Play everyday. Of course this may not be possible when life throws unusual circumstances our way but daily contact with your instrument is important to learning anything on a deep and subconscious level. Schedule a time each day when you are going to play your instrument just as if you were going to meet a friend everyday at a particular time.
- “Practise” can for some people have unhelpful and stress related connotations which brings tension into our music-making. If we approach our practice without any expectation of improvement and enjoy the experience in a more playful, less serious way we may be surprised at how progress actually comes by itself. Accept failure as a natural part of learning and leave yourself open to an experience which you can’t manufacture yourself.
- Don’t feel like you have to practise for a long time. Some days we might look at the clock and realise time has passed quicker than we thought but on others we may be tiring ourselves out due to frustration - on these occasions it might be better to take a break.
- If you are learning a new piece of music, generally it is best to start the session by getting to know a less familiar section first. It’s easy to get absorbed by sections which are already relatively fluent because the familiar is usually more attractive and we get impatient when reading new notes . Dive into the unknown and enjoy meeting some new music!
- Don’t make it up! Budding musicians tend to misread the score quite a lot because they are keen to play something and don’t study it in enough detail before doing so. We should be referring enough to the page and question ourselves as to whether we are being faithful to the score.
- Being able to look at the score whilst playing is useful and saves time: develop your sense of touch and sound to inform you whether the notes are correct. Blind musicians don’t have the luxury of seeing their instrument and can manage perfectly well.
- Fluency often comes alongside memorisation. Therefore your practice can be initially focused on memorising the notes in small phrases or gestures at a time.
- Don’t be too greedy for progress - this brings extra tension and spoils the ease of the music.