Structured practice is a massively important part of how we learn music. This often brings up imagery of miserably hashing out scales and exercises for endless hours every day. Whilst it’s really important to make progress, keeping it light and fun will always bring better results. This post will help to demystify practice. Of course, having a jam for fun is what it’s all about sometimes too, but it’s good to make a distinction between playing for fun and practicing.
Getting hold of a practice diary is super useful. This is a really effective tool to help progression. Parents or teachers can set goals up and keep track of them. There are lots of cool apps available to help out with this if paper is too old-school for you! This diary can be as detailed or informal as you like – whatever works for you. Keeping a record is also useful for future because you can look back over past diaries and see how much progress has been made. Practice diaries are also a great way to incentivise by rewarding certain milestones. With diary in hand – set out a ‘to do’ list for each session. Blindly stabbing in the dark is pretty pointless, so create some specific objectives to work on. These can be really simple: working on a certain rhythm; sight-reading; tone production; and so on.
Keeping things manageable is really important, so try dividing the practice session into three or four manageable chunks. We would recommend using a template similar to the one below which is set for an hour of practice:
Prep (5 min): Get everything you need practice out and ready to go (instrument, metronome, music stand and music, pencil, eraser, etc.).
Warm up (10 min): Most instruments have specific warm up books to help out with this step. Scales and arpeggios are also a great way to loosen up and get ready for more ‘heavy work’. Always remember to warm up slowly and before trying anything complex, this will help to prevent injuries. Also as a general practice tip – if it hurts: stop!
Practice (30 min): Focus on what you have decided to work on in your practice diary. This time can be divided up as necessary. Try having a small break between different exercises or pieces to clear your mind.
Warm down (10 min): Chill – play something fun or easy.
Tidy (5 min): Tidy everything up.
Everybody is different when it comes to practice – some like to work in short bursts and others prefer long uninterrupted periods of concentration. Both are fine. Try different things out and eventually you will find a sweet spot. Once you get to this point, try to get a daily routine in place – after school is usually a good time (before tiredness sets in). Practice times will also depend on age and ability level – for example, a four year old just beginning to play violin won’t need to practice for more than an hour per day, whereas a student preparing for their diploma level exam will likely need much more than one hour.
Keep your practice to the amount of time you allocated and try not to go over or under. Your teacher will often be able to recommend a suitable amount of time to practice every day. As strange as it may sound, practice can be quite addictive, especially when making quick and noticeable progress. Think of it like a good session in the gym! Whilst obviously, there is such a thing as too little there is also such a thing as too much practice.
To make the most of your session find a good, quiet space with lots of light. This space should be comfortable and without distractions (tv, phone, etc.). We have missed out Music Theory here because it really needs separate time to work on. Ideally, you should spend an equal amount of time on performance practice and theory. Make sure you have the right equipment, e.g. a metronome, correct music, proper music stand, tuner, pencil, eraser and instrument stand, (etc.) is vital.
Remember that bad practice for several hours is less valuable than thirty minutes of good practice!