Practice makes perfect…but what makes perfect practice?

Wittner_metronomeThere’s one word that many musicians fear, a word that strikes terror (or boredom) into their hearts. Of course, I can only be talking about practice. Why do we hate it so much? It’s a necessary part of every musician’s training (and beyond), and so wouldn’t it be great if we could learn to enjoy it a bit more?

This is by no means a ‘list of things that you must accomplish in order to be better at practice’ – it’s such an individual experience. Everyone does it differently, and you often have to think to yourself: ‘What am I going to get out of this practice session?’ before your instrument is even out the case. Having a clear game plan for the day will help you stay focused and on track.

Think about what exactly to practice: Are you wanting to do some technique work? Practice the solo with the gorgeous, flowing lines? The flashy cadenza in the concerto? Very often, your day can incorporate many different elements, but it’s important to divide it up and be clear what you’re working on in that particular moment.

Which brings me on to something that I myself am particularly bad at: timing. Remember to dedicate the right proportions of your practice to warming up, doing technique and so on (this is different for everyone, of course), but most importantly, remember to rest! Very few people can actually concentrate and practice effectively for 3 hours straight; an occasional break will do you no harm!

Concentration is key when practising, especially with technical studies and exercises. Practice can quickly become detrimental if you’re not focusing on why you’re practising what you’re practising. If you’re finding it hard to concentrate, likelihood is that you just need a quick break.

piano-practice-Also, try to move around the order of your practice, so that it doesn’t become stale. It’s true that there are some things that we need to do all the time (such as warming up), but if you’re finding the routine a bit monotonous then try perhaps doing more technique work on some days, and less on others. You have to be flexible; there will be times when your schedule dictates that you need to prioritise certain things over others, so it’s good to not stick to too rigorous a routine.

Of course, there are other ways to practise that don’t involve actually playing your instrument. Listening to recordings, marking up your parts and singing complicated rhythms to yourself are all ways to get to know a piece better. Obviously, though, you will have to pick up your instrument from time to time! (Sorry – you can’t get away with it that easily…) I’m currently learning a piece with complicated rhythms – I’ve had it for two weeks and still haven’t actually played any of it yet! There’s no point in adding a further difficulty to the problem – that is, playing it on your instrument – if you’re not clear on how it’s supposed to sound before you start practising it.

At times, it will seem like you want to give up, to put the instrument down and switch on the TV instead. Try to push through, to keep going: think of the feeling of accomplishment when you can play that really tricky passage, or when you give that extra special performance. It can be hard, but remember that very often, many things in life that are worth having have to be worked for. Sometimes practice can be dull as dishwater, but if you remember why you’re doing it and keep your ultimate goal in mind, whatever it may be – to really engage with a certain passage, to develop a better sound, to play E major semi-staccato in thirds – it might just become bearable.

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