Practice Makes Perfect, But Are You Doing It Right?

Piano practiceYesterday we discussed some common excuses for not practicing and how to overcome them.  If you’ve already read that and corrected your mindset, the question remains:  How much do you really need to practice?  There’s a difference between mindless practicing and deliberate practicing – read on to find out how to get the most out of your practice sessions, courtesy of this Bulletproof Musician blog post that we loved:

Deliberate Practice

So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses.

Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of your repertoire instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).

Deliberate practice also  involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?

Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened and how they can correct the error permanently.  Make that a habit during your practice sessions.

4 Keys For More Effective Practice

1. Duration
Keep practice sessions limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students (or if that’s all you have time for), and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.

2. Timing
Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy. This may be first thing in the morning, or right before lunch, etc. Try to do your practicing during these naturally productive periods as these are the times at which you will be able to focus and think most clearly.

3. Goals
Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. The key to getting into the “zone” when practicing is to be constantly striving to have clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you’d like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you’d like to be able to execute consistently.

When you figure something out, write it down. As I practiced more mindfully, I began learning so much during practice sessions that if I didn’t write everything down, I’d forget.

4. Smarter, not harder
Sometimes if a particular passage is not coming out the way we want it to, it just means we need to practice more. There are also times, however, when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique.  Think creatively.

Make the time you do have count, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the music.  Readers, do you have any of your own strategies to share?  As always, we’d love to hear – leave a comment below!


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