Practicing - it’s a word that has some sting to it. As artists we all need to do it in order to perfect technique, prepare for performance or to simply maintain the skills we already have. To some of my students it usually seems like a another hopeless chore to add to the list of homework, walking the dog, eating five servings of vegetables, going to the dentist, etc. Let’s change that. Let’s make practice fun again!
As a professional musician, educator, composer, and stay at home parent, I completely understand lack of available time. My philosophy is: "If it's important, do it first in your day
". So, I try and put my practicing early in the day to make sure it doesn't get replaced by something else.
I ask of my beginner students (vocal and piano) at FortePiano in Winchester is that they take a minimum of ten minutes per day working on what was covered in their previous lesson. Ten minutes - 600 seconds. That is less than 1% of a 24 hour day.
So, with the little available time my piano and voice student asks, “How should I practice?”.
Here’s the process that I try to get my students to do:
Ask yourself: “Why am I practicing?” - My hope is that the thought that first comes to mind is to “play” or “have fun”. Music inherently should be fun. If it isn’t talk to your teacher. They can and should help you find the fun again.
Prepare before you start - get whatever materials you need for your practice session. Pencil, sheet music, water, etc. Everything within arms reach so that you can stay with your instrument, and stay focused.
Warm up! - Breathe. Get into a place of focused attention. Then start simple with your instrument (long tones, scales, technical exercises) and then move toward what is more complex.
“Practice the Problem” - Don’t go directly for what you know. Make mistakes! That how we get better. You should be practicing a piece or section of a piece that is a little difficult for you. Or if preparing for performance - working on polishing, or memorizing a piece. This is what your teacher is usually referencing when they tell you what you should be focusing on from week to week.
Take notes - so that you can remember what went well, and what didn’t. This is of particular help for your teacher and makes your lesson time even more productive. (Parents of young beginners should feel free to talk with their child’s teacher about what works and what doesn’t).
Repeat! Practice is only as good as how frequently you do it! (See what Mr. Armstrong said at the beginning of this post.)
It is simple. Now, go out there and have fun practicing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Antanas Meilus is a graduate of Salem State University, is a recitalist, piano and voice instructor, and composer who resides in the Boston area. An advocate of new music, he regularly takes part in premiers of new works by local composers. He serves on the Faculty of the FortePiano School of Music as a voice and piano instructor.