Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How to practice

Practicing a musical instrument is best done under the direction of a qualified music teacher. If that is not possible, you can get more benefit from your practice time by following the rules below:

    (1) Allow at least an hour or two for serious practice where you will not be interrupted or disturbed.
    (2) Divide your practice time evenly (see #4 below) between each of the following practice areas:

      (A) Scales and intervals
      (B) Sight reading new and unfamiliar material
      (C) Review a previous song
      (D) Learn a new song
      (E) Chord study (for chording instruments)
      (F) Work on memorizing a piece
      (G) Practice a technical or skill study
      (H) Study a little music theory
      (I) Work on your original music or improvisation
      (J) Put down the instrument when you get tired, sore or frustrated and listen to some music (see previous post)

    (3) While practicing all of the above, concentrate on:

      (A) Steady, even rhythm (use a metronome)
      (B) Proper posture and hand position
      (C) Clear tone - no "fuzzed" or "frapped" notes
      (D) Make sure you understand what this lesson will accomplish for you

    (4) It is OK to devote a little extra time to any of the above areas, for example: Practice new and previous pieces longer if you have a recital coming up or you want to play them at a gig, or, spend more time on improvising if you are beginning to make a breakthrough in this area or if you recently heard a good performance and are full of inspiration.

If you cannot practice 60, 90 or 120 minutes at one session, remember to make up the time later the same day or the very next day. Also, if your practice sessions must be shorter, you may not have enough time to get through all the study areas listed above. You might have to do half of the list one day and the other half another day. Remember, cutting back your practice time also cuts back your progress.

If you cannot devote at least this much time to practice, you may not be able to achieve the level of playing you desire. While a short practice session is better than none at all, you get out of the business what you put into it. The more you practice, the better you'll get; the less you practice, the worse you will remain!

When you get very tired (it's ok to get a little tired), sore or extremely frustrated (it's natural to get a little frustrated), then STOP for now - your practice will no longer be productive and you are just wasting your time (not completely - everything helps!)

If you have a music teacher, feel welcome to discuss this plan with your teacher. Your music teacher might be able to work out a customized practice routine that will work for you.

If you practice following this plan or a similar plan, you will get more benefit from your practice time than practicing for a long time with no goal or method in mind.


Tom Smerk


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