Practicing Music, Part 2
Practicing your instrument is like practicing anything that requires a high degree of skill. As a former soccer player, I remember having to practice a move hundreds of times before I was able to use it in a game. And that’s no exaggeration.
The same goes for music. In order to perform something successfully—whether it be a lick, an entire piano piece or guitar solo—you’ve got to practice, and practice the right way. Doing so will allow you to quickly achieve positive results, and it will ensure you address problem areas in your technique and overall playing. In part two of this series on practice, we will talk about what exactly I mean by practicing the right way.
If you’ve read and adopted the ideas discussed in part one of this series, you’re already well on your way to practicing correctly. Once warmed up, your body and mind should be primed to tackle the meat of a practice session. Now, here are a few more tips on practicing the right way, with a focus on making the most of your practice time.
1) Break Things Up
We are usually tempted to play through a song or solo in it’s entirety when we’re practicing. We tend to start, make mistakes, finish, then repeat. Then for whatever reason, we’re surprised and annoyed when 20 tries later we’re still making the same mistakes we were making on our first attempt. But that isn’t even the worst of it; we might actually be training ourselves to make mistakes when we practice this way!
To fix this and avoid developing bad habits, simply play through your song or solo once, making mental notes of problem areas, and then go back and focus the bulk of your practice time on areas that actually need improvement. This ensures that you spend time working on what actually needs work, saving time and minimizing frustration. Remember — be patient. Learning to play a song or solo is rewarding precisely because it is a challenge! Embrace mistakes and fix them before putting the whole thing together.
2) Practice With a Metronome
The best musicians are those that have mastered rhythm. Play along with a metronome for at least part of every practice session. At first, you may be discouraged; perhaps you had no idea how quickly you begin to speed up or slow down even the simplest strumming pattern, melody or scale. Or, perhaps you recognize that even considering rhythm and tempo is one too many things to think about. But again, be patient. You just have to train your brain to become conscious of rhythm and tempo. This takes time, and even the most accomplished musicians continually work on this aspect of their playing.
3) Take Breaks
Ever heard of the study skill that goes something like for every 45 minutes of studying, you should take at least a 15-minute break? For all you high school and college students out there, trust me on this one, it makes a huge difference. Well, a similar approach to practicing music applies, only in shorter time increments.
You might not think so at first, but watching your favorite TV show while practicing is a great way to practice efficiently and correctly! During commercial breaks, mute the TV, turn on your metronome and intensely practice scales, strumming patterns or problem areas in a song over and over again for a few concentrated minutes.
When your favorite show returns, turn down the volume on your electric guitar or keyboard, put your pick down if you’re playing acoustic guitar, or apply the una corda pedal on a piano (the left pedal—sorry, you’re dealing with serious music junkie here). From there, mindlessly strum or play a song that you already know well. This is your break, and guess what, you’re killing two birds with one stone—practicing and relaxing at the same time! So for all you skeptics out there who don’t think you have enough time to learn an instrument because Modern Family is your priority on Wednesday night, Homeland is the priority on Sundays, College Football takes up your Saturdays and so on, you might be just the folks who would excel at learning how to play an instrument the right way!
All that being said, practicing intensely and correctly like this does not need to be an every day occurrence. Simply jam with friends or along with some songs you like a couple times a week as practice, and focus in on the tough stuff on your remaining practice days. Remember, Bold Music strongly recommends practicing five times a week for at least 30 minutes to achieve the best results. That’s all for now, and by following some simple steps, you can make the most of your practice time and become a better musician than you ever thought possible. Stay tuned for more installments of this series on practice.