We all practice to improve on something we decide to do and achieve the goals we set out for ourselves. Yet a surprising number of my music students often tell me “Brendan, what/when/how should I practice?” Let’s be clear on something; for me practicing is like any other skill—you have to learn how to do it. Learning how to practice can make your practice session a lot more fun and enjoyable. Practicing correctly also saves you time. You will know what to focus on and make the most out of your practice session.
Imagine if we were all born with this amazing ability to know exactly how to improve at anything we do... it would be great, wouldn’t it?
Or would it?
For me at least, part of the joy of playing an instrument is learning how to teach yourself something and understanding how your own mind processes information. I am a strong believer that the people who have best learned this ability (combined with sheer talent) are often the best players.
But here’s another word that has a lot of depth, “talent.” Is talent the ability to learn quickly, to play creatively, or to practice effectively?
This series of articles will tackle all of these big questions, and each will look at an area of practice that I feel is important in becoming a complete musician.
Practice vs. Playing
Playing and practicing are two different things when it comes to learning your instrument. For sure both are very valuable and there is some overlap between the two. You can certainly get some of the benefits of practicing while playing and vice versa.
The common conception is that practice is boring and focuses on things that you don’t enjoy, whereas playing is something we do for fun. Here are some of the key points which I think define practice or playing.
- Critical Playing. For me practice is the ability to look critically at your own playing in order to improve it.
- Playing something repetitively until you have mastered it.
- Analyzing the finer details of your performance.
- When practicing you’re competing against yourself and trying to overcome challenges just like “playing” a game.
- Playing your instrument is like playing anything (a game, a sport etc.). However the difference between playing an instrument and playing a game is that the competitive element no longer exists.
- We often play our instruments when we’re in a band, orchestra, or any other ensemble.
- Playing requires little critical analysis, the moment you start thinking critically it becomes practice.
- When we play we generally play things that we can already do comfortably.
However there are ways to combine practice and playing into one extremely helpful, healthy exercise.
- Practice music you enjoy playing and listening to. Most music you learn will teach you transferable skills that will also be useful in other styles of music.
- Practice whilst listening to music. This will make practice feel like a more fun exercise rather than a boring chore.
- Practice with friends. Practicing with other people adds a nice friendly social element to a very useful exercise.
- Reward yourself. Buy yourself a tub of Ben n’ Jerry’s ice cream especially after nailing those pesky rudiments or scales at a particular tempo!
- Get creative. Create your own grooves/melodies/chord progressions inspired by what you’re practicing. This will really help your improvising.
- Take breaks. Taking regular breaks to do other things makes you appreciate playing more and helps you focus.
These are all things that I do on a regular basis and have had to learn over a number of years. I wasn’t always this way. I had the same problems that any musician has, but these tips have prevented me from getting bored of practicing. I’m confident that, if you try all these tips, you will start enjoying your practice sessions and seeing great results!
Next week we will continue with this series on How to Make the Most of Your Practice, and our topic will be about setting goals for your practice sessions. Stay tuned.