Happy 2019!! A new year is the start of new beginnings and it is the perfect time to make practice your new habit. Here are 8 tips to help you practice efficiently this year.
1. Set a Goal
Determine your practice goal and write it down. It could be to learn a piece by the end of the month, have a successful audition, win a competition or get an A+ in your upcoming AMEB exam. The next step is to set out the steps that is needed to achieve your goal. For instance, if your goal is to learn a piece by the end of the month some steps may include:
Practicing scales in the same key as your piece;
Working out notes and fingerings in the piece;
Practicing rhythms with a metronome;
Learning a new section or line each day; and
Identifying challenging passages, practice them slowly and then repeat them at various tempi until you are confident with the passage.
If you get stuck, discuss your goals with your teacher who will be able to help you work out steps to achieving them.
2. Develop a Routine
Set up a regular time to practice. If you are a morning person, practice before breakfast. If you have time in the afternoon, after school, practice as soon as you get home. Or if you are a bit of a night owl, practice before or after dinner.
Practice regularly. The more often you practice, the better musician you will be. Aim to practice every day of the week, including weekends. It is more effective to practice more often but in short 20-30 minute bursts than to only practice one or two times a week for 1-2 hours.
Practice is not about how many hours you do. It is about how you practice and how efficient your practice is. Setting goals and developing a regular practice routine will help you overcome those difficult pieces with ease.
3. The Practice Environment
Create a practice space that is right for you. Find a place at home that is quiet and free from distractions, and make this your regular practice space. Ensure that you have everything in that space: your music stand, a chair, pencils, an eraser, sharpners, highlighters, manuscript paper, and some water. Have your metronome and tuner nearby. If you use your phone or iPad as your metronome and tuner, turn your device on to airplane mode or do not disturb mode to avoid unnecessary distractions.
4. Warm Up
Warming up is important to ensure that you are both physically and mentally ready to approach your pieces. Start with some scales, exercises or studies and sightreading. Having a good variety of scales and exercises will help you stay motivated. You can also revisit pieces that you have previously learned. Before playing, focus on your breathing, noticing any tension you may have from your posture or your instrument.
5. Identify Challenging Passages
Identify challenging passages for your practice session and work on them individually until you can master them. Identify passages where your timing may be out, or the fingering or shift is not working out for you, and decide how you are going to fix the passage. Different problems need to be approached differently. If the problem is related to rhythm or timing, you may need to practice the rhythm only with the metronome by clapping the passage and subdividing the beat. If the problem is related to pitch, you can use a tuner or have someone play the notes on the piano for you to tune to. Once you have overcome the challenge, practice around the challenging passage such as going to and coming out of the passage to ensure that you have mastered it fully.
6. Record your practice
A good way to practice and see your progress is to record yourself practicing. This is great when you want to identify difficult passages or want to track your progress over the week. By listening back to your practice, you may identify spots that you may want to do differently.
7. Mental Practice
Studies have shown that mental practice can improve your overall performance. Mental practice is good for students that are preparing for auditions, competitions and exams, as well as older students who may suffer from anxiety and performance nerves. Mental practice involves you visualising your performance in a quiet area, performing the piece without mistakes. Mental practice is a good way to increase your focus and help you become less reliant on muscle memory, which can sometime cause us to slip up under pressure or when we are nervous.
8. Reward yourself
Finally, at the end of your practice session and each time you achieve your practice goal, remember to reward yourself as a reminder that you have worked amazingly to play an instrument.
I wish you all the best on achieving your practice goals in 2019!