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10 Essential Tips for Better Practicing, Part 1

how to practice to get the best results

10 Essential Tips for Better Practicing, Part 1

How to Get the Best Results in the Least Time

Mr Michael loves teaching at Greenwich Arts Academy
Mr Michael
For Students
October 19, 2020

So it’s time to practice piano. You sit down, flex your fingers (like Bugs Bunny in that long-ago cartoon), prop open your music book, and..

Now what?

Is there actually a right way to practice? Or at least a better way?

Yup. Indeed there is. In this series of posts, I’m going to discuss 10 essential tips for better practicing. Yes, they’ll make practicing easier. Yes, they’ll get you to a finished piece of music faster. No, these tips won’t magically make practicing as fun as a visit to Disney World — although practicing your instrument can and should be a lot more fun than the way you’re doing it now. But they’ll definitely make it feel like it’s not Such. A. Waste. Of. Time.

work with the brain the way the brain likes to learn

Because that’s the problem, isn’t it? We sit down to practice, feel like we don’t really get anywhere, go away for a few days... then sit back down to practice and feel like we’re starting over. Again. That’s frustrating. That’s boring. That’s what makes us want to quit.

Well, I’m going to help you with that in this series.

Here are the tips, in the order I’m going to cover them:

  1. Schedule Your Practice Time
  2. Master Your Rhythms First
  3. Next, Master Hands Separately
  4. Finally, Combine in Short, Logical Chunks
  5. Learn Articulations With the Notes
  6. Set Realistic Goals — It’s Not a Race
  7. Music Is Art, So Be Artistic
  8. Music Is Fun, So Have Fun
  9. Use a Kitchen Timer, Not a Clock
  10. Schedule Your Practice Time!

Embedded in numbers 2-4 is what I call “The Formula.” This is the “magic bullet” that gets you to the goal in the quickest way possible. Really, I shouldn’t call it “magic” — it’s just a practice method that works with the way your brain likes to learn.

So let’s dive in.

____________________

Essential Tip No. 1: Schedule Your Practice Time

The most common excuse I hear from students about why they didn’t practice is, “I didn’t have time.” Yup, I get that from six-year-olds.

Thing is, it’s kind of true. Kids are busy these days. Certainly they’ve got way more going on that I did when I was their age.

Make an appointment to practice. Block off the time. And don’t let anyone violate it.

When I was a kid (oh no, here comes one of those stories) I actually was done with my homework early enough to go out and play with my friends — who were also done with their homework. We actually went across the street to each other’s homes and rang the doorbell: “Can Mike come out and play?” Usually the answer was “yes.”

That doesn’t happen much anymore. Kids have schedules. They plan “play dates,” or it won’t happen. Parents write soccer practices into the family calendar, so they can be sure the dentist won’t conflict (because it’s impossible to reschedule the darn dentist).

Note the pattern: if it isn’t scheduled, it won’t happen.

Same goes for your music practice. You need to write it down in the calendar. Make an appointment to practice. Block off the time. And don’t let anyone violate it.

You don’t throw out soccer practice on a whim, right? Because you can get kicked off the team. The consequences of not practicing are: you won’t progress, the person paying for lessons gets zero ROI (Return On Investment), and every time you do sit down to play the piano, it’s so frustrating that you eventually quit.

Remember those friends who would ring the bell to invite me out to play? My mom made sure they knew not to ring between 400 and 430 every day. That was practice time. Sure, I didn’t always practice during that half-hour. But my friends stayed away anyway. My mom valued piano practice time. She knew it. I knew it. The whole neighborhood knew it.

If your family’s schedule is so unpredictable that scheduling practice time isn’t practical, there’s another solution. Find something, some event, that always happens, like clockwork. Dinner time. Brushing the teeth. Then “attach” the music practice to that.

“Billy will practice piano every day for 20 minutes before brushing his teeth.”

“Jane will practice piano every day for 20 minutes before dinner.” 

(That one only works if there’s a consistent dinner time.)

By attaching the music practice to an event you know won’t get skipped, there’s a much better chance the practice will actually happen.

Here’s the payoff: you get better at your instrument. Period. Any practice, even bad, unfocused practice, helps. You can’t not get better if you’ll just sit down and play. Every time. Guaranteed.

Of course, focused practice with precise intent for a specific outcome works wonders in terms of outcomes. And that’s what the rest of the posts in this series will be about. But none of that will help if the practicing doesn’t take place. So let’s take care of that first.

Part 2 coming soon!

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