Everyone needs to practice and everyone who loves to play should love to practice. But don’t think that practicing means just playing things through. Getting into a few good habits will make you improve much more quickly. By using good practice methods you can learn twice as much in half the time, and your pieces will sound better, too.
Each person learns in a unique way. Because of your experience, background and abilities you will learn in a different way from another person. Here are some tips that over the years of teaching we have found can help you get the most out of your practice sessions.
- Keep your instrument and music out and available at all times.This way if you only have 15 minutes then you can sit down and practice without taking too much time to get everything together. Also having your instrument and music in your sight reminds you to pick it up, or take a seat and practice.
- Practice for at least 30 minutes every day. You can break this into two 15-minute practice sessions if time is short. However by keeping with a regular practice schedule you are conditioning yourself to remember your music. Even subconsciously as we think about our music during the day, it becomes part of our memory.
- Warm up with scales. It makes it much easier to play if you have warmed up for a few minutes before launching into your music. Warming up also helps to prepare your mind and body for playing.
- Divide your music up into small sections and practice each section until it is good. Then combine two small sections to make a larger section. Practice this until it sounds good and keep combining sections until you play the whole piece.
- Write down questions for your teacher. Use a notebook to make notes on questions you might. This way when you take your lessons you can refer to these notes and ask your teacher to address them.
- Practicing with a metronome. Start with the metronome at a fairly slow tempo. Play the passage at this temp until you can do it perfectly and stay exactly with the metronome. Then move the metronome up a notch and repeat the process. Keep doing this until you reach the temp you should be playing the piece. The advantage of using a metronome is that it strengthens memory, technique and keeps you honest – you can’t fool the metronome. If you are playing the wrong rhythm or can’t keep a steady tempo you will know right away.
- Do it right the first time. Always aim for correct notes, sound and musical expression. If you get it right the first time it is much easier. Psychologists say that a ‘stimulus’ enters long-term memory after it has been attentively observed 7 times. But an ‘incorrect’ stimulus takes 35 repetitions to learn the ‘corrected’ way. It is 5 TIMES easier to get it right the first time than to re-learn the piece.
- Try to understand the music. Apply the things you have learned in your music lessons and everything you know about music to the pieces you play. Look for the key, scales, chords, patterns, repeated sections, the form, phrases, accompaniment patterns, and rhythmic patterns–everything you can find. If you understand the music, you will learn it faster, remember it better, and play it more musically. Keep a pencil close to hand and write these things in the music as you find them.
Psychologists who study learning say: “Analyzing the meaning of something helps you remember it longer.”
MOST OF ALL ENJOY LEARNING. Don’t beat yourself up if you come across a difficult piece, it has happened to us all. We are all still learning. We are just at different places on the learning curve. Enjoy the journey and see how far you have already come!