All musicians know that practice is essential for improving and mastering their instrument. Practice is our time to perfect playing without any distractions. When we finally do sit down to practice though, how do we utilize our time? What constitutes a “good” practice session? What do we work on and for how long?
These are all questions that musicians should ask themselves. It is true that the more you play your instrument, the better you will become. However, it is also true that focused and organized practicing will yield better results in less time.
As a professional musician, I try to differentiate between playing and practicing. When I play, I try to serve the musical situation as much as I can, doing what I feel is right for the music. Often, while I’m playing in a rehearsal or show, I’ll stumble upon a certain phrase or rhythm and make a mental note of it as something I need to practice. When I practice, I focus on what I can’t do. What’s the use of spending practice time on things we know well already?
We all have a tendency to play things that we know well. If we measured the time we spend noodling on phrases that we’ve already internalized years ago, it would add up to hours and hours of lost practice time.
One way to make practice time more meaningful is to keep a log of the ideas you are working on. At the end of each practice session, quickly write down what you have worked on and what needs to be practiced next. If you spend time on a certain tune, write it down. If you worked on a specific pattern, write it down along with the metronome speed you worked with. The only one reading this log is you, so write just enough to remember what you were working on. The end of a practice session is the best time to fill out the log, since your thoughts will be fresh and current. With an updated log, you can see exactly what needs to be done before starting your next practice routine, leading to a focused and efficient session.
Another way to improve your practice routine is to devote a certain amount of time to each exercise. It is easy to drift off and practice a certain tune or exercise extensively, leaving little or no time for other subjects. Before you begin each exercise, give yourself a certain deadline, at which time you will stop and move on to the next musical subject. Our body takes time to internalize musical ideas and patterns. Muscle memory is built only through repetition. It is much more efficient to work on 4 to 5 different ideas during each practice, rather than practicing one idea during an entire session.
Being a working musician is a very demanding job. On top of rehearsals, performances, recordings, teaching, composing and auditioning, we must find time to expand our musicianship and improve our mastery of our instruments. This makes time a valuable commodity.
I hope you found these practice tips useful, and that they help you to further achieve your musical goals. What system do you use to make your practice sessions more efficient?