There are many ways to practise your music and if it works for you and you get the desired results, that’s great! However, you may struggle to find something that works for you or maybe you are looking to change things up. In today’s blog I outline a suggested practise routine. This is based on a 30 minute session, but as outlined in my previous blog you can do lots of little ones using one of these suggestions.
1. Warm Up
Warming up is very important even if you’re only doing a short session. I recommend about 10-15% of the practise time is spent warming up. Things you can do:
Physical/Stretches - This will loosen any tension you have in your body which means you’ll be more flexible. Stretching fingers and limbs will all help.
Breathing/Long Notes - Especially important for singers and players that require breath to make the note. However, it won’t do any harm for all musicians as this can help relax you.
Scales & Arpeggios - Warming up with these is a very good way of “getting them out of the way”. They help with flexibility.
Humming - Gently vocalising is a great way to warm up the voice before singing. Try range stretching too - gently.
Tunes are the main reason we want to play our instrument or sing. The following tips may help you perfect your pieces.
Start Easy - Play an easy tune to get you in the mood. Revisiting old pieces is a great way of doing this. It’s also great to revisit old pieces to add new techniques and dynamics if you wish.
A Bit At A Time - I mentioned this in my previous blog. Rather than trying to play or practise the whole piece at once, practise them a bit at a time. Don’t move on until you get it right.
Middle - Start in the middle of the piece. This encourages you to pay attention to detail.
End - Start at the end of a piece and work backwards. By this I mean, start with the last bar, and then work backwards as each bar gets perfected. I don’t mean play the music backwards - though that’s an impressive challenge!
Phrasing - This is similar to bullet number two but here I’m suggesting working on one phrase at a time. You don’t have to do the phrases in order.
Additives - Add character. Add colour. Add flavour. A lot of what you play is affected by how you think or what you think of when you play (or sing). Playing a note with the colour red, should have a different feel to one played blue.
Take Your Time - Take your time to get it right. It’s not a race. You don’t get a medal from rushing through your music. Take pride in what you’re playing and work diligently to produce a result of which you’re proud.
Listening to lots of different music is a great way to find new pieces. Challenge yourself to listen to a new piece/genre/artist at least once a week. If you have time, listen to a large work or complete album. Really listen to all the nuances and subtleties. Don’t just have it as background.
This word fills a lot of people with dread but it really needn’t. When I say improvise in this instance it’s all about exploring and changing up the music you’re playing. I like to say if you can’t improvise, make it up. Some people think I’m being flippant but I’m not. Making stuff up is a great starting point. You only need to worry about the “rules” when it’s necessary. I’ll be doing a blog about improvising at a later date but for now try some of these:
Random Notes - Choose some random notes - for example letters of your name that are in the musical alphabet and make up a tune.
Inspiration - Take the first couple of bars of a piece you play and use them as a motif. Make up a different tune lasting an additional six bars.
Major Or Minor - Change a minor piece into a major piece and vice versa.
Tempo - Change the speed of a piece. If it’s fast, slow it down; if it’s slow, speed it up. It’s amazing how much that can change the mood of a piece. Check out this video of a well known song being slowed down and how different it feels. Yes, it’s been done with a record player, but the same effect can happen if you play or sing a tune slower or faster.
Dynamics - Do opposite dynamics. If it’s loud, go soft and vice versa.
Rhythm - Change the rhythm. If it’s straight play swung, swung play straight.
5. Play Something New
This suggestion is double edged. It will help with your sight-reading (more on that in another blog) but it will also give you something different to play. So, find something that you’ve not played before and play the first eight bars.
6. Add Detail
When you first start playing a new piece I like to suggest that you start with the basics - ie the tune and the rhythm. From my experience it’s better to get the foundation of the piece first, before you go into too much detail. The reason being it can be quite overwhelming trying to put everything in straightaway. Some would argue that by putting it all in at the start you get used to what needs to happen - which is true…but I like an organic process. You don’t bake a cake with the decorations on and an artist doesn’t add the fine detail before they’ve done the main picture.
Play it at speed (when you’re comfortable)
Think about the character and mood of the piece.
7. Find Music
Find the sheet music for stuff you want to learn. If you hear a piece of music and it excites you enough that you’d like to learn it, find the music for it and either do it on your own, or ask your teacher if they can work on it with you.
These are just some of my suggestions based on over 30 years experience as a teacher, but also as a student too. They can help give focus to your practise and of course you can experiment. You practise to improve and it’s not always going to be easy. But as Aristotle said: