Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Practice: Your New Year's Resolution

No doubt, many of us make New Year's resolutions.  For some, it may be to lose weight, eat better, exercise more, be a better mom/dad/spouse, save more money, etc.  For musicians, it might be to practice more or more efficiently.  If it's something that you like to do, it might seem like an easy thing to do.  Practice time can be hard to come by for all of us, though.  Life is busy... 

My best friend, Sharla, told me about her New Year's resolution to practice more.  She plays piano. She told me over the phone a couple of nights ago that she wanted to play the piano every single day...even if it was just one song.  Then she said that she just wanted to make sure she actually sat down on the piano bench and went through at least a scale.  Then I laughed and said, "you mean you want to make sure that you at least take one finger and play one key on the piano as you pass by it every evening."  Then Sharla laughed too and we agreed that that sounded more like what would actually happen.

So what can you do to make sure that you have a practice resolution that you can actually keep?  Here are some ideas for you. 

First of all, make sure that your goal is reasonable.  It might be reasonable to play at least one scale every day, but not reasonable to play for one hour every day.   And with practice, how OFTEN you practice goes farther than how LONG you practice.  Playing for 4 hours every weekend is great, but if you can spread that out over the entire week, you'll progress more and faster.

Practice SMARTER:  Another great goal would be to practice for at least 10 minutes on days that you have your lesson (after the lesson when you get home).  It REALLY helps you to be able to remember what you did during your lesson, which will help you in all your practice sessions all week.  If you don't take lessons, remember this technique when someone shows you how to do something.  If you're out at a festival or jam and you learn something new, make sure to go over it again as soon as possible so that you don't forget it.

Practice what NEEDS practice.  If you can't play the last line of a song, don't keep going back to the beginning to play it all the way through.  Practice the last line.  I know this might seem like common sense, but as a teacher I see this happen all the time.  Especially with beginning students.  They always tell me that they can't start in the middle of the song.  You have to learn how to do this...even if it means getting your tab or music out to help you do it.  When you get ready to play a song you know there is a trouble spot in, play through the trouble spot several times before you even play the whole song.  That will increase your chances of playing the song correctly the first time through.

Practice with others.  Maybe your goal needs to be to practice with other people.  Practicing with others is one of the best ways to get better faster.  If you haven't tried it, let me warn you that it's hard for most people.  It's worth the effort!  Many times when people first start attending jam sessions, they tell me they feel lost and frustrated.  Don't let this stop you.  Keep trying until you can do it.  You may play better in your living room, but eventually you will be able to "carry that living room feeling" with you to the jam.

Try television practice.  What???  This is one of my biggies, especially for kids who try to tell me they don't have time.  I ask them if they watch any television.  The answer is almost always yes.  I tell them to take their instrument with them to where they watch tv, then play it during the commercials.  If you play during the commercials of a 30 minute program, you have probably practiced about 10-15 minutes.  Not too bad if you consider the alternative was to not practice at all.  Reminder:  I'm not saying do ALL your practice this way!!!!  I personally will use this method while watching the news if I am trying to memorize something.  I have 5 minutes or so to play through a phrase or portion of a song, then I watch some news, then I see if I can remember what I memorized during the last commercial break.

Do you have your own practice tips?  We'd love to hear from you!


Larry said...

I try to practice in the morning before I go to work. It is quiet, I don’t bother anyone and I am a morning person. My resolution is to practice slower and work on the hard parts rather than whole songs!

sylvia said...

Practice during commercials is almost all I've EVER done and I highly recommend it. One of the best tools for practice is to have your instrument accessible. After I bought a stand for my fiddle, my practice time became FAR more frequent. Makes a big difference to have my fiddle right there, tuned and ready to grab whenever I have a few minutes to spare.