So if you’re like me, you’re someone that loves music, wants to be a part of it, wants to create it. . . but absolutely despises the fact that you can’t just KNOW how to play an instrument. You actually have to practice said instrument. Starting out on a new instrument can grow frustrating when you have aspirations and goals that are far ahead of what your fingers know how to do. You have to take the time to learn the basics, and figure out the methodology behind it. Your fingers need to grow accustomed and dexterous, muscle memory has to be developed through repetition, and your mind has to attune to those movements in turn (sometimes your fingers get ahead of your thoughts, and vice versa). Well I don’t have the longest attention span, but unfortunately practicing is a necessary evil. However, that does not mean it has to feel like a chore where you force yourself into droning repetition for an hour. I want to share with you a few tips that I’ve learned from musicians I’ve spoken with regarding practice methods. Ways to make make your practice time more effective, and less excruciating.
Find Somewhere Quiet
Okay so some of these are pretty basic, but they are still pretty important all the same. It’s important for you to find somewhere that allows you to remain focused solely on your music for the duration of your practice time. Eliminate distractions, and find somewhere that your mind can associate with the music. This creates a mindful intention that will help you create the routine.
Have a Set Up
It’s helpful to set up your quiet area as a sort of practice space. Have your instrument there and ready to go, a notebook and pencil on hand for note taking, and your music already open to where you left off from your previous practice. Keep it organized. That means wires, papers, and the like aren’t just flung about the work space. Having this set up beforehand makes it feel like less of a hassle to jump into when it is time to practice, since you already have everything ready to go, and a clean space devoid of clutter promotes a clear mind and a calm mentality. Which leads me to my next point.
While it’s usually considered a good thing to set up your practice for the same time everyday, a lot of the musicians I spoke to said it is incredibly difficult for them to practice when they feel rushed, tired, on edge, or agitated. Practicing right after you get home from a stressful day of work, or a long day of classes, probably isn’t the opportune time to set yourself up for a practice that could agitate you further. It becomes unproductive, little mistakes could become dis-proportionally frustrating, and you may find yourself resenting the time set aside for your music. A calm mind leads to success, so it is best to find that time in the day where you feel level headed, well rested, and clear.
I’m sure you have smartphone, tablet, or the likes. Technology has given us awesome tools to use in our quest for musical expertise! Doesn’t have to be anything fancy or complicated, but I personally find it highly beneficial to download a metronome, a guitar tuner, a timer, and even a vocal pitch app. Having all of those right there on my phone is incredibly useful. A metronome of course being useful for ensuring you remain in time, and I frequently use the vocal pitch app so I can put a name to a note I may be getting wrong. There are lots of useful apps out there, but these are the few of the basics I would highly recommend.
Longer Isn’t Always Better
We as people tend to have a varying amount of will power to draw on (I have a particularly small amount), and when that will power is exhausted then your practice stops becoming intentional and starts becoming automated. If you can only keep your mind focused on your practice for 30 minutes, but you are aiming for an hour long practice, that second half becomes much less effective. It’s better to take smaller amounts of heavily intentional and focused practice. Even if you were to plan only 10 – 15 minutes of a very specific objective such as a particularly difficult chord change on the guitar, that will be way more effective than spending an hour mostly on auto-pilot, and you may be surprised at how much easier it is when you come back to it the next day.
Make Your Time Count
I suppose the gist of this article is that you need to utilize your time as effective as possible. You don’t need to spend four whole hours a day on non-stop practice. . . I mean I know some people actually do that, but that just sounds excruciating to me. It’s about quality over quantity. Kind of a weird analogy, but It’s kind of similar to eating nutritious food as opposed to foods full of empty calories. Each day we are designated an average caloric intake, and in order to be healthy we want to get the most nutrients we can within a smaller amount of food. Eating a bunch of non-nutritious will still get you fed, but it isn’t really doing a whole lot for you body for the amount of calories you’re taking in.
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The common consensus among the musicians I spoke to was that you need to practice smarter not longer. A lot of people don’t even have all that time to give, so you have to make the most of the time you do put in. When you practice, practice with a specific goal in mind, and with a specific intent. Practice in a calm and quiet space, use technology to your advantage, and practice only for as long as that intent remains the foremost focus in your mind. These are some pretty basic tips, but if you take them into consideration I’m sure you’ll start becoming more aware of the improvement to your musicianship.
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