In today’s blog I’d like to share my top ten tips for effective practise. The list is not exhaustive, but will hopefully help you to practise effectively. Of course, you may not agree with all I write, but these are just things I’ve found have helped me, and my students, in the past.
1. Regular Time
Set aside a regular time (or times) for practise. Ideally every day. Some parents, and indeed adult learners, think they need to set aside at least half-an-hour daily. This can be difficult though so my advice is to try and find several five or ten minute slots throughout the day. I go into more detail about this in number three. However if you can find longer, that won’t do any harm!
Once you have got your regular slots throughout your day be sure to have specific things to work on. Your teacher should be able to help you with this (if they provide lesson notes). An example could be first slot scales, second slot piece 1, third slot, sight reading - and so on. As long as you fill the time wisely and you’re playing - it’s all good.
3. Little And Often
Don’t think that just one big practise is sufficient. It is better to practise daily for less time, than once a week for a long time. I’ve coined the phrase “Little and often is better than big and rare…unless it’s a steak!”. The reason why a big practise isn’t always the best idea is because there’s a risk of getting bogged down or bored if you feel you’ve got to do it for an hour or more at a time!
4. Light Up
It’s very important to make sure you have enough light in the room. If the room is dingy you won’t want to spend long there. You’ll be straining to see the music, which will make your eyes tired. In fact, make the practise room a space you want to be in. Make it welcoming so you enjoy being there. Put musical posters on the wall, warm colours, and again - lots of light!
5. Warm Up
Always warm up before a practise. Even if you’re only doing say ten minutes, it’s better to do something to get in the right frame of mind. Scales and arpeggios are usually a good option. Alternatively one of your exercises or a favourite piece. Don’t take too much of your practise time warming up. I’d suggest 10 to 15 percent of the practise time. Gentle warm ups will prevent pain.
Don’t always start at the beginning of a pieces, start at random points. This means the whole piece gets worked on throughly rather than the start being amazing because you always play from there and deteriorating as the piece progresses. If you can, copy the music and cut it into strips or two bar sections. Pop the pieces in a bag or envelope select one and practise that section.
7. Don’t Ignore Mistakes
If you’re doing an exam it is always best to carry on if you make a mistake - but only during the exam! When you’re practising if you make a mistake don’t ignore it. Stop. Look at what went wrong. Work on it to correct it and only then carry on. Ignoring the mistake won’t make it go away, in fact ignoring it will likely make it worse (or harder to correct).
8. Things You Don’t Like
Don’t put off things you don’t enjoy. Don’t ignore the things you find a struggle. For example if you struggle with sight reading then get on and do more of it. The only way to improve and eliminate resistance is to do it. Everything you do is a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. If you don’t use it, it will atrophy.
9. Fun, Fun, Fun!
Keep having fun! Once you’ve practised what your need to, just play for fun. Make up some tunes. Don’t ignore the tasks at hand but always remember making music should be an enjoyable experience. Enjoy the process. Play your favourite tunes because any playing is still practise and will have major benefits…but not at the expense of what you’re “supposed” to be doing.
10. Take Notes
Make notes of anything with you’re struggling, you can then talk to your teacher about it. Don’t rely on remembering what it was; jot it down! Equally important though is to keep track of things you feel you did well. I’ll be talking about “little wins” in a future blog, but for now keep making notes of good things and bad.
In the next blog I'll layout some suggested practise routines.