Practice, Practice, Practice

As spring break is coming to an end for our young students, instruments will be dusted off and played again. The past two weeks have been filled with kids sleeping in, cartoons and sleep overs, sometimes making music practice an afterthought…. But remember, practice is still important!

As a musician, I really disliked practicing when I was a young student. Having to practice my instrument meant feuding with my parents over how long I had to sit inside alone and play music while all my friends were outside playing games. After twenty years of making music, practice is one of the most important ingredients to making a successful performance for a successful musician.

The first thing for any musician is to think about the end goal. In a few short months, East Valley School of Music will be having our annual Graduation Concert! This recital means standing in front of an audience playing memorized music. EVSM’s goal is to have all of our students play beautifully, and to enjoy playing music for their audience at this recital. This is a very easy task, but we all have to work together to make it happen!

So, how do we practice to make all of this possible?

First, we must set goals for ourselves musically. You should have a few short-term goals, like playing for your upcoming concert, being able to memorize your music, and having a regular practice schedule. Students should also have one long-term goal, such as learning a very challenging piece by the end of the year, or reaching a high note on your instrument flawlessly, etc.

Second, we must learn how to practice. Practice may not be fun, but if we set small goals for ourselves within our practice sessions, it makes our practicing have meaning, and we feel better and more accomplished at the end. When working through a piece of music one goal we should ALWAYS have is to get all of the notes right. Our brains learn patterns, and the more times you get the notes right 100% of the time, the better this pattern becomes imprinted on our brains for next time. Play the trouble sections slowly, making sure to get every note right first, then up the tempo. Practice patterns are also very helpful, such as changing the rhythm in a 16th note passage so it makes your brain think in all different combinations to learn the notes. Ask your teachers for some good practice patterns you can use!

Finally, plan a regular practice routine. If you need to, write down practice time in your schedule. You will never get practicing done if you don’t plan for it! Practicing every day will help in many ways – it will strengthen the small muscles you use in your playing, like your embouchure for wind players, or your fingers and back for string players. Every day practice will also help reinforce what you learned the day before. If you only practice once between lessons, it is hard for your fingers to create “muscle memory”, so even if you could play it at home the day after your lesson, six days later, your fingers may not remember!

What we need to remember:

  • Set goals for yourself: Daily, weekly, monthly. Write them down. Hold yourself accountable. Let friends and family know what these goals are so they can help you follow through!
  • Practice small chunks at a time very slowly, work your tempo up from there.
  • Find good practice patterns.
  • Make a regular practice routine. Write it down so you do it!
  • Reward yourself after you have reached your goals!
  • Practice, practice, practice!