How to Practice


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"I really want to practice more, but I don't know what to do!"

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Ever get bored with just playing your pieces over and over?  Here are some things to help you with practice techniques -- things to think about, what to practice, how to practice, etc.

Practicing often is more important than having lengthy practices.

The better you are, the more you have to practice to improve.

Have a day off each week, but try your best not to have more than one day off as you will start to lose any improvements you have made.


Practice for RESULTS, not just to meet the minimum time requirement.  Use this 5-step process:

  1. Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)
  2. Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)
  3. Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
  4. Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)
  5. Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)
  6. Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)
Practice in the mirror and check:
• Is your bow straight?  Parallel to the bridge/end of fingerboard?
• Is your bow in the right lane (close to bridge or close to fingerboard)?
• Are you using all the joints in your right arm to bow?  Are your fingers flexing?
• How's your overall posture?  Can you look yourself straight in the eye? Are you hunched over?
• How's your left hand shape?  Is it squashed?  Are you serving pancakes?
• Are you making any extra/unnecessary movements when you play?




And finally... the PRACTICING ALPHABET:


Analyse

Make sure to understand what is wrong with your playing and how you will put it right. Don't make the mistake of plowing through endless repetitions with out analysing your playing between repeats.

Begin

Often the hardest part about practice is getting started. If you are someone who finds it difficult to practice regularly don't get hung up on how much practice you need to do. Instead of thinking about minutes just set yourself the target of picking up your instrument and at least starting to practice every day.

Care

Take care over every element of your playing. If you are lazy about your practice you will improve slowly, lose interest and most likely not want to practice. On the other hand more care will see you improve faster and become enthused about the progress you are making.

Desire

You have to want to practice and get better. Spend some time thinking about why you are practising. What are your musical dreams? What would you most like to achieve? Create your own desire and the motivation to practice will come easily.

Ears

What is the most important practice aid that you have? Tuner? Metronome? iPOD? The truth is none of these. Your ears are your most important practice tool. Aside from poor practice technique the biggest single reason for slow improvement is that people do not know how to use their ears properly. Students go to lessons to make use of their teachers ears - if you could hear everything your teacher hears would you still need lessons? The key point is - develop your ears!

Focus

To be really effective your practice needs to be focused. Focused in terms of what you are trying to achieve and how you will get there. Doubly focused on the task in hand (i.e. not watching the TV at the same time!)

Good

Are you a perfectionist? That's not always a good thing as far as practice is concerned. Instead of perfect aim for good and then move on. The trap of practice paralysis lies in wait for the unsuspecting perfectionist.

Honesty

Honesty is most often missing in the practice room. We are just not good at being honest with ourselves about the mistakes we make. We're also not good at being truthful about how focused our practice is, how much we achieved and how good we really are. Remember, a little honesty goes a long way.

Interesting

You don't have to do the same old things in the same old way when you practice. Mix it up, try different things and take a few moments to play things you really enjoy. 

Journal

Have you ever felt that you're not improving? You're putting in the work but you just don't seem to be getting anywhere. Then a practice journal is for you. After you finish practising write down in detail what you did, what was easy, what was hard, what you enjoyed and what you didn't. Include bar numbers, metronome marks and all the other little details that go into practice. If you keep a regular journal you will be able to look back and discover that you have in fact improve. Things that you found difficult a few weeks or months ago will now seem easy.

Knowledge

How much do you know about your music? Who is the composer? What is the harmony? What is the background to this style? There are literally hundreds of things you can learn about the music you are learning. The more you know the more you will be able to play a piece effectively. How much do you know about practice?

Listening

STOP! If you don't read any of the other tips in this list then at least read this one. Listening is the single most important thing you need to do when practising. Without careful listening you will not know what is wrong or how to improve. Listen, listen, listen.

Mental

Not all practice needs an instrument. In fact you can get a lot of practice done without your instrument, on the bus, at lunch or in the bath!! Simply spend time thinking and imagining in detail your perfect performance. You can also use mental time to memorise notes, scales and fingerings - all useful stuff which will be invaluable once you get back to your instrument.

Notes

The right notes are kind of important. Try to ensure that you play correctly more often than incorrectly. Just because you played something right once doesn't mean you can play it like that every time.

Options

Keep your practice fresh and inspiring by ensuring that you always have options in your practice. Try doing things in a different order, learn new music, select music at random or improvise.

Plan

Where's your practice plan? Do you have one? Is it written down? If it's not written down then it is not a proper plan. Take some time out of your regular practice to write down what you are trying to achieve, how you will do it and when you will get there. 

Quiet Time

If yours is a practice room that generates constant noise then you are spending too much time playing and not enough time thinking. Make space in your practice routine for quiet moments to clarify in your mind what you are trying to achieve and prepare for the next repetition. You will be far more productive that way.

Repetition

The most misunderstood area of music practice. You cannot simply do it and expect to get better. You need to take an active part in each repetition to ensure your practice is effective. See our repetition practice method for more detail on this very important topic.

Singing

Even if you have a voice like a vacuum cleaner you should use singing as part of your practice. Singing a passage frees you from the technical concerns of your instrument and enables you to express the music in the way you want. Like all other areas of practice you should try to ensure that what you sing is as accurate as possible.

Teacher

Who is your teacher??

98% of you got it wrong!

Whilst, there may be a person who you see regularly for lessons your most important teacher must be you. Think about it. How long do you spend in a lesson?

30 minutes? An hour?

How long do you spend practising on your own? Everyday?

If should hopefully be clear that in order to make the most progress you need to learn to be your own teacher. Learning to practice effectively is one step. Try imagining at every step of your practice what your other teacher would say. What would they tell you to improve? Which bad habits would they correct?

Uniform

Not something you wear but your approach to practice. Always be dilligent. Always persevere. Always focus on the practice in hand. Always strive for better. And always enjoy what you are doing.

Vitality

Effective practice requires many attributes, time, patience, knowledge, skill and others. Make sure that you give your full energy and vitality to everything you practice.

X-Ray

Try to see past your current problem or mistake through to the real reason behind the mistake. Did you really know the notes? Is your technique up to scratch? Is your memory really secure? Don't just skim over the obvious - look for the detail.

You

From the way that you listen, the way that you plan, the way that you think through to the way that you repeat there is one common element. The element is you. You are an active part of the practice process. Without you taking an active role, as opposed to passive there is no value in practice.

Zebra

A metaphor for a particular type of practice. You don't have to practice the same things in the same ways every time you practice. Just like a zebra's black and white stripes try to practice alternate things on alternate days.