Saturday, May 22, 2010

How Much Do I Practice?

I get asked this question from time to time.  Most recently, Steve was talking to me about his practice sessions and how to make them more productive (he's already quite productive).  He asked me how much I practiced, and how did I keep up my old songs while learning new songs.  The problem arises that after you learn so many songs, you can't get through them all in one practice session.

Steve told me that he would play through his new songs four times each, gradually increasing his speed if he was doing well on them.  Then he would play once or twice through his other songs.  He knows enough songs now that it takes him about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get through everything.  Many times, he does this twice a day.  (No wonder he is so productive...he's also retired.)

I told Steve that I will work on several new songs at one time.  On my hardest songs, I might be working on them for 6 months or longer.  In the beginning, I will spend hours on just one song and nothing else.  I might literally play the whole song, or part of the whole song, through 100 times in one session.  First off, I have to get it memorized well enough that I can remember what is coming next while playing at a reasonable speed.  Then I have to get good enough that I can fake my way through it if I mess it up.  Then I get to where I can play the tune well fairly consistently.  This will take weeks to months to accomplish on my hardest songs.  My old songs will get play time maybe once a week or so unless I really like the song.  I am also helped along in my "practice," if you want to call it that, while I teach.  Since I teach for 7-9 hours a day, four days a week, there's a lot of time in there that I go over my old songs.

When I'm working on something that is fast, I'll use the metronome to keep me in rhythm.  I'll also work with a guitar player so that I know I am playing in tune and so that I get used to what the guitar part sounds like with whatever instrument I'm playing.  Once I get through the "I can play all the notes" stage, I work on putting some feeling into what I'm doing.  On fast songs, that means I will work on making them exciting.  On slow songs, my focus will be more on feeling, vibrato (on fiddle), and dynamics.

If I'm working on a song that I want to play in a contest, I will gradually start playing it out in non-contest situations.  When I start to play for others, I quickly find out the areas that I am having trouble with.  (Unfortunately, sometimes that's the WHOLE SONG!!!!)  If I want to play it in my band or a concert setting, then I will start off by practicing the song with my band and by playing in jam sessions.  Sometimes I will record myself because this is almost like playing in front of someone.  Try it and you'll see how many mistake you make in the beginning!

Next time you think someone else is so talented, think about how many hours they spend practicing to get that way.  It didn't just happen.  At least not in my case.  But it is worth the time and effort because I enjoy it so much!

1 comment:

Steve said...

Thanks Chris for summarizing the discussion we had on practice, It helps us old guys remember things. I think that it is very important when learning an instrument to also learn how to practice so you can be productive.