Believe it or not, many bad habits steer students away from practicing more efficiently. As a pianist, teacher, and student, I will address some of these tendencies from my own personal perspective. The wise student who practices effectively will reap greater benefits and achieve quicker results.
While it is a large part of my job to teach students “how” to practice, I cannot be with them at home when they are practicing. Parents, if you are reading this blog, please be vigilant about your role in encouraging efficient practice. Even if you are not a musician, you can still be a very effective “practice detective.”
Below are five of my top 10 practice issues with suggestions for helping students to use their practice time more efficiently (catch up on the first five in part one of this blog!).
- We mindlessly follow the notes on the page, and we miss seeing the patterns, colors, and dimensions.
Music is meant to be studied and understood, thus we must pay attention to the details on the page. As students learn, they should become their own discoverers and teachers. Students should look for the fundamental details in every piece – time & key signatures, patterns, repetitions, starting & ending notes, highest and lowest notes, rhythms, dynamics, shapes, and special effects. Taken one by one, there is no understanding of the composer’s intentions and no connection made with the parts of the piece to the whole.
- We love to play the parts we already know.
If we continue to only play the parts a piece we already know, there is less time to learn the new sections. Sometimes it is best to start a practice session with new material, perhaps in a different section other than the beginning of the piece. For example, I have often gone to work on a tricky ending before going back to play from the beginning of a piece that I have already learned.
- We repeat the same mistakes over again & over again without listening or fixing them.
Often, we do not even listen to ourselves, and thus we don’t recognize our mistakes! Before a problem can be fixed, the musician must be paying attention to hear it. Listening, identifying, and problem-solving are key to stop making mistakes repeatedly. Writing on the score can be very helpful in the places where we have trouble spots. I tell my students to isolate trouble sections and repeat them until resolved. A teacher can facilitate this process, but the student should eventually do more of this independently.
- When we get frustrated, we do not recognize that it is time to take a break.
Frustration means it is time to take a short break. We must learn to press the “reset” button in our practice regimen. Walk away from the instrument, get a glass of milk, and return with a fresh outlook. Shorter and more frequent practice sessions are more effective than longer ones where we easily become tired and frustrated. It is best to practice at a time when the mind is energetic, away from distraction, and able to fully concentrate.
- We tend to ignore expressiveness and composer intentions.
Music is an art. Every song has a composer, a purpose, a meaning, and an expressive content. It is our responsibility to give attention to the composer’s intentions and to do our best to reflect the true nature and character of the pieces we play.
While much of this advice seems perfectly logical, often we inherently do not pay as much attention to the “how” of practicing as we should. The result is that our practice time is less efficient. Awareness of the above details, and imparting the discipline to follow them, is paramount to making the most of practice time. I hope that our parents and students can take these ideas about practicing and really shine this new year!