PRACTICING FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT | Kent State University

PRACTICING FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT

Many musicians make the mistake of spending too much practice time either 1) playing selections that they can already play well and not enough on those they can’t; 2) practicing a selection without a specific goal or strategy to improve; 3) practicing technical passages too fast rather than starting at a manageable tempo and working towards the target tempo; 4) practicing only to get correct notes and rhythms and not practicing dynamics, tempo, style, etc.; and/or 5) practicing the same mistakes over and over in the belief that repetition will fix them as opposed to isolating and slowing down the problem area.  To be an effective practitioner, consider using the following effective practice techniques:

  • SHORT PRACTICE SESSIONS VS “CRAMMING” – It has been proven that human beings process information and develop physical skills by participating in shorter practice sessions with well-defined goals over a longer period of time than they do by practicing the same amount of time but for longer periods over a shorter time span.  In other words, you will be more productive practicing 45 minutes a day for 4 weeks with a solidly planned, goal-oriented  practice session utilizing effective practice techniques than you ever will practicing 3 hours a day for 1 week.  Not only will your embouchure be too tired to be any good, but there’s no way to maintain a strong level of mental and emotional focus on your practice for more than 45 minutes or so at a time.

  • PLAN – Before you ever practice, have a set of goals that you hope to accomplish for that day (see the “5 LEVELS OF EFFECTIVE PREPARATION” information below), well-thought-out strategies to reach those goals, and keep track of your progress.  An effective tool you can use to help you practice smarter is the KSUMGF Practice Checklist, which can be found on the Members Onlywebpage.  You may also use Music Journal Proa practice journaling App that allows you to keep track and set goals for your individual practice.  Make sure you set S.M.A.R.T. GOALS for maximum growth.

  • TUNER & METRONOME – ALWAYS practice with a metronome so that you are practicing steady tempo.  Likewise, ALWAYS practice with a tuner so that you can constantly monitor pitch tendencies and problems as you play.  Keep track of consistent “problem” notes.
  • UTILIZE EFFECTIVE PRACTICE TECHNIQUE – Many young musicians make the mistake of thinking that just playing something over and over all the way through will magically make them play something better when in fact, all that does is cause you to keep practicing the same mistakes over and over.  Similarly, too much practice time is wasted working on music that you already know as opposed to targeting the sections that are the most problematic.  The best way to practice is to isolate and focus on the areas that need the most work using effective technique to improve those areas.  Here are some examples of some of the most effective techniques to use to get the most out of your practice:
    • CHUNKING - Isolate the specific area of challenge. Sometimes it’s a small technical passage or even just one note. Don’t waste time working on stuff that you can already play 
    • SLOW PRACTICE - Target the problem area and slow things down to a manageable tempo. DO NOT speed up until you can play it correctly. If you continue to force a tempo that is too fast, you will reinforce mistakes and create a mental block that will incorrectly convince you that you are unable to execute the passage or movement. 
    • ADD-ONS - Isolate a small section then add new parts until the whole is played. 
    • THREE-TIMES RULE - Do not move on to a new exercise, section, or tempo until you are able to perform the chunk of music three times in a row with no mistakes 
    • CONTEXT - Always put the isolated chunk back into context with the rest of the music before you move on.