I believe that a great way to examine and improve our approach to personal practice is to consider the time spent practicing as one would consider the analogy of making financial investment as one might invest in ‘futures’. In a sense practice is a form of investment, so therefore we need to develop a systematic, sequential approach to practice that will equate into to effective, rewarding performance returns/outcomes over the long term.
However, many of us remain unfamiliar with the systematic and sequential learning principles that lead to successful, rewarding practice outcomes. I trust that the following overview of the fundamentals of practicing will provide some informative direction leading to more productive, enjoyable practice sessions inspiring us to return to the practice room time and again.
A. Here follows some common questions
1. When is your best time for practice (consider work/school/family/friends commitments)
If you feel more alert in the morning, this may be the best time for you. Conversely, if your concentration, energy and focus are better in the afternoon or evening, then these may prove more productive. Sometimes it is more effective to divide practice time into two or three time slots instead of one long session. Whatever time suits your schedule and state of mind, be consistent and make the effort to practice at the same times at least five to six days per week.
2. Where is the best place to practice?
Practicing requires a ‘quiet’ space where you won't be distracted or disturbed. Put away any distractions and let the people around you know that you would like not to be disturbed. Be sure to Turn your media/phone off.
3. How can I best prepare for successful practice outcomes?
Practice requires both mental focus and physical energy to effectively progress your practice plan. Practicing when tired, thirsty, hungry or un-focused, will only lead to frustration and disappointing results.
4. How long should I practice?
The actual time spent in practice does not matter as much as how you will use the time you have, identifying what you wish to accomplish and selecting and organising the activities and exercises that will best aid you in achieving today’s goals.
a. Depending on the tasks at hand, such as: exams, juries, recitals, major ensemble public performances; forty-five minutes to an hour is a good place to start… However, practice time is also about building mental and physical endurance. It is important to understand the physical and mental demands our performance repertoire will place on us so that we can prepare for both mental and physical endurance.
b. Make sure that you programme your practice sessions for success by identifying what specific things you wish to accomplish today. It is easy to reinforce mistakes and waste time when you practice without a plan; well-constructed plans can provide both purpose and focus to your practice. They promote ‘scope and sequence’, encouraging mindful concentration thereby enabling steady progress.
5. How can I get the best results from my practice time?
Structured, planned and consistently timetabled practice sessions provide the basis to achieving productive progress. The following suggestions will help you steadily progress when you practice.
B. Planning and Preparing for a workable practice routine
The first step toward developing a productive and rewarding practice routine is to begin with a clear definition of the word “practice”. Practicing is the act of learning and refining one’s technical and musical fundamentals through a sequential and systematic approach. Without a properly developed technique it is very difficult to master either ensemble or solo performance repertoire. Actually, there are two parts to this: ‘learning’ and ‘refining’.
Performance’ can take place in front of your friends, teacher, an audition panel, an exam, a master class, or a public audience. The art of practicing in its broadest terms is a skill that is developed over time, enabling you to detect problems and mistakes through careful concentration and comparative listening; to effectively solve those issues through the application of proven strategies. Practicing is hard work. For this reason, it is necessary to approach the task with thoughtful planning and constant experimentation to learn what format is ultimately most suitable and effective for you.
1. First of all, you will need to decide on how many hours of practice you are going to attempt each day/week. Much depends on your destination, ultimate goals, the performance task, and what you ultimately wish to accomplish in the time allotted.
2. Sit down with your weekly schedule and organise specific practice times. If you are unable to set regular times, you will fill up the time with other activities, unable to meet your goals. Be sure to trial your schedule. Some practice times may work better than others, but it will at least provide a place to start. You can always make adjustments to meet your particular needs.
3. If possible, break up your practice times throughout the day. However, if you have to practice, for example, two hours consecutively, take a break of ten or fifteen minutes between sessions.e. Be flexible in finding practice time when your daily life adds more activities. You may need to get up earlier or stay up later. You may also need to invest in a practice mute: There are currently many on the market.
4. Daily practice does not consist of simply playing through exercises, solos and ensemble repertoire with a dis-engaged’ rote-repetition approach’. Rather, it is essential that one first identify the fundamental skills and knowledge “I need to overcome the specific technical performance challenges of my repertoire”. These basic performance skills are developed and mastered through the daily use of sequential training materials. It is the mastery of these skills that enable us to meet the technical and musical challenges of our performance repertoire
5. Play with specific goals in mind; ones that you can measure. Set three focused gals for each time you begin practice. At the beginning of practice sessions, ask yourself, "What do I want to accomplish today? Shall I focus on tone/intonation development, basic finger/slide technique, build reading skills through sight-reading? Or, should I begin to focus on a new work, play with heightened musicality, or fix some problem passages in a current work?" Now, set three focused goals for each specific exercise, task or passage you place under the ‘microscope”. Don’t aim too high though. Make your goals realistic, even setting them lower than you think. Better to hit a lower target than to miss altogether.
6. Before we can practice a work, we must learn it through becoming familiar with the specific key centres, notes, articulations, rhythm challenges and expressive considerations. The main task of ‘practicing’ is that of getting the work up to speed. As your focus may change, continue to analyse our progress with questions such as: "Am I playing in tune? Is my tone even across the range, are the specific rhythms properly aligned and what parts of the work need specific attention?" However, whatever direction you take, remember to form detailed, descriptive opinions of your specific practice out-comes throughout your practice time, and be sure to recognise what is going well first and then identify what you would like to improve!
7. The most effective use of time is to meticulously plan for each practice segment with specific targets and measurable outcomes. As a part of the learning process try to form honest, articulate opinions on your progress*
a. Listen critically
b. Listen analytically
c. Listen patiently
*Start with ‘What did I believe went well’ and follow up with ‘What would I like to improve’?
Be sure to stay tuned into my next instalment "Improving our practice approach"
Thank you for reading! Warm regards, Monte