Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to Practice....

Judging by the feedback I've gotten, Monday's post about practicing struck a chord (ha!). (By the way, I love getting feedback. Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself here. Comments are always welcome.) As the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra is gearing up to start in a few weeks I thought I would expand on how to practice well when you aren't crazy about practicing.

Practice every day. Practice every day. Practice every day. Practice every day. The repetition of daily practice creates muscle memory. It's the same process as learning to shoot free throws. The only difference is the use of fine motor skills vs gross motor skills. Muscle memory is not something you can cram at the last minute. If you wait to practice until the day before your lesson most likely you will wind up having “played it better at home.” You don't need to slave over your instrument for hours every day. On super busy days even 10 minutes of quality practicing is better than nothing. The bottom line is that you need to practice every day. You have time, trust me.

Have a plan when you practice. How long are you going to practice? What do you need to accomplish this week? How does that translate to today's practice session? When you practice without a plan you tend to wander. Things will get done but not nearly as quickly as when you have a plan. And when you are busy and don't particularly enjoy practicing, it's best to get things done as quickly and efficiently as you can. Your plan should be as specific as possible. Planning to practice your youth orchestra music is too general. Identifying the piece, section, and problem within the section that you need to practice in your youth orchestra music is much better.

Go slow and start small. I'm considering printing this on a tee shirt because this is, by far, the phrase I say to students the most. (It is also, by far, the most unpopular thing I tell my students.) Can't play a section without crashing and burning? Slow it down. Still having trouble? Identify the problem and break it down into smaller parts. Really listen and pay attention as you play. Ten minutes of concentrated work like this is tedious but at the end of the ten minutes you will be miles ahead of where you were when you started and certainly in better shape than if you had spent ten minutes muddling through.

Make the best of it. Practicing is not inherently fun because practicing is work. Realizing that playing an instrument doesn't have to be fun all the time can go a long way in reshaping your attitude toward practicing. Find ways to make it fun. When I was in college a group of us always hit the practice rooms at the same time. After awhile we would take a break, hole up in someones practice room and have tea and chocolate. We also had scale parties where everyone got together to practice scales, but that's another story... See if you can practice 100 days in a row or compete with a friend to see who can go the longest without missing a day. Record yourself playing a piece or section when you first start working on it and then record yourself playing the same thing a few weeks later. It is very motivating to hear your progress, especially if you feel like you're at a standstill. Find recordings of great artists playing your instrument and listen to them often. Attend live performances for even more motivation.

The better you practice, the better you will play and the more you will enjoy your instrument. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go practice.


Angie said...

Hi Katy -- We met at the bloggers event earlier this year. I need to get in touch with you, and have lost your email address. . .and the address to your "other" blog.

Can you zip me an email?? I have a friend that is looking to hire a string quartet or quintet for a wedding.


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