The two most important things to know about practicing are:
- It’s not how many times you practice/play a piece, it’s how many times you practice/play it right. Playing it wrong over and over just teaches your hands how to do it wrong.
- It’s not about how long you practice, either. 10-15 minutes of careful, thoughtful practice is far better than 30 or 60 minutes of low-quality practice. Even 5 minutes a day can be very valuable if it is done right!
More Tips for Practicing:
- Practice Makes Permanent! Perfect is impossible, but permanent is easy. The notes, rhythm, articulation and tempo you use in practice quickly become a habit that is hard to break. Better to play it slowly and right than fast with the same mistakes over and over. It’s much harder to fix those mistakes after practicing them into permanent. (Each time you play music, your brain is organizing a layer of cells to tell you how to do the exact same thing again, mistakes and all. Do it slowly enough to do it right and you will program in the correct way to play it the next time. Unlearning programmed-in mistakes is hard!)
- Follow your teacher’s practice instructions. They know you and are the experts on how to get better.
- Have a plan. As soon as you sit down to practice, plan what you want to accomplish. For example: Today I’m going to fix the wrong notes on page 3, increase my speed on the recital piece, and make sure my scales are smooth.
- Use your brain just as much as your fingers! Listen to yourself and analyze what you are hearing. Is there a place where you keep messing up no matter how hard you try? Identify the exact note where you start to mess up. Check the notes, rhythm, fingering, articulation, etc. For example: Did you think it was a step instead of a skip? Write “sk” between the two notes, then start in the measure before, point and say steps/skips until the end of the measure where you made the mistake. Do that a five times in a row correctly to solidify it. Then try playing that section while saying step/skip for each interval. Then go back and play the whole piece.
- If you’re making mistakes, you’re playing too fast. Play as slow as you need to play in order to make no or very few mistakes. This means playing slow enough that you can think through the challenges while you play. When you can play it perfectly when slow, play it a little faster each time until you get to the right tempo. If necessary, use a metronome to help you keep it steady. Remember, your mistakes will become permanent if you’re practicing them over and over.
- Finish your practice session with something fun. Play your favorite piece or exercise you have already learned, or have a family member listen to what you have worked on today so that they can hear the improvement.
With the right kind of practice, you will quickly learn your music and have the joy of playing it well!