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The Art of Music Practice

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”

Practicing an instrument, including voice, is absolutely essential to your progression as a musician. It might seem obvious, but if you’re not pleased with your own or your child’s musical development, the problem is almost certainly a lack of deliberate and consistent practice.

It’s easy to slip into the mindset that if you’re taking lessons every week, you’re good to go, but that assumption is way off base. Think of lessons as train tracks. They’ll keep you pointed in the direction you need to go, but you still need an engine to propel yourself forward. That propulsion comes from practice.

With that in mind, here are some tips for effective practice strategies:

Consistent practice is better than binge practice

It is better to practice for thirty minutes a day, five days a week, than it is to practice once a week for two-and-a-half hours. If you binge practice, you will simply burn yourself and your muscles out, not develop consistent muscle memory, and forget material from week to week.

Practice is not rehearsal

If you spend a while going over the one or two songs you already know pretty well, that’s fine, but it’s not enough. Your practice sessions should always contain a period of warm up, (with scales, arpeggios, or riffs), a period of skills development (like playing a short, tricky passage), and a period of rehearsal (where you play that song that you really want to play).

Practice more of what you’re bad at, and less of what you’re good at

Designate more time to playing passages that prove difficult for you. It’s tempting to always play what you can already play, but it’ll make you an imbalanced musician, because you’ll strengthen your good qualities while neglecting your weaker ones. Get the hard parts of a song up to speed before returning to the easier stuff.

And speaking of speed, practice SLOWLY

I was the worst offender of this piece of advice. As soon as I could kinda sorta kinda play something, I’d play it at twice the speed it was meant to be played. It’s so much more important to be accurate than it is to be fast. Speed will come after you’ve mastered the passage accurately. If you don’t practice slowly, you’ll reinforce little mistakes over and over again. By the time you decide you want the song to sound clean, you’re dealing with a jumbled mess that’s been drilled into your muscle memory 1000 times over.

Don’t EVER practice mistakes

I said it up there, and I’ll say it again. Don’t practice mistakes. If you’re making one tiny mistake in a song, it’s likely that you’ll want to keep practicing the whole song over again, assuming the tiny mistake will go away by itself. Take it from me: it won’t. Practice only the phrase that contains the mistake. Get it right. Then practice larger chunks of the song.

Keep a practice log

At least until you get into the full swing of practice, keep a log in which you take notes, write out goals, and take down directions. It’ll help you stay in gear, and avoid becoming overwhelmed. Focus on maybe two problem spots a day, and don’t expect to be perfect overnight.

1 Comment

  1. It has been stated by those at Music Institute that to master an instrument requires 10,000 hours of practice. Molly is correct: Practice, do not rehearse. Pick a small passage and perfect it. Then proceed to the next passage. Good work Molly.


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