Practicing Smart

by Josue Reyna

Practice makes's true; and every teacher must have recited this idea at least once in his or her teaching career.  This concept has been installed in our minds long before we ever decided to pick an instrument.  For example, a baby does not immediately transition from a crawler on the carpet to a full on runner in the hallways.  There are those first steps every baby must take; and even then, he or she cannot take off into a sprint.  The baby falls, then gets back up, and then takes another few steps.  After a while the baby can make it from mommy's lap to daddy's arms across the living room, and eventually he or she can walk, even run,  about the house as he or she pleases.  The idea is that through practicing the ability of taking a series of steps, the child gains the knowledge and confidence needed in order walk.  The idea is the same with practicing music.  The most irritating area in the process of becoming a great musician is those first steps.  The first time we bow a fiddle, tickle the ivories, blow air through a trumpet, strum the guitar strings, or even open our mouth to sing a vowel; these are the first steps in becoming a great musician, and they can come with great frustration, possibly even disappointment.  Only through PRACTICING SMART can we work through these first steps with minimal frustration and maximum/efficient achievement.  The following points are to help correct and encourage your practicing habits so that you can be the great musician you know you can be!

Pick a good time...
-Pull out a weekly calendar, and look for a spot where you know you can strictly focus on your instrument.  Don't just look for any empty spot in your agenda, especially if you know that time of day is one where you're surrounded by noise and distractions or you're tired.
-The time you pick has to be consistent throughout the week
-Anticipate your practice time as it approaches so that you can begin your session already being mentally prepared...which brings me to my next point...

Mental Preparation...
-Pre-meditating your practice sessions will help take your focus to a higher level.
-This involves listening to your assigned piece (or exercise) while driving, at work, in the morning while getting ready for the day, or even at night before going to bed
-Take mental/physical notes of things you want to remember during your practice session

Set a goal...
-At the beginning of your practice session, set a reasonable goal for yourself and plan your practice time accordingly.  Say you have set aside 30 minutes as your practice time, then say to yourself:
      "By the end of 30 minutes, I would like to be able to play/sing these 8-12 measures of music comfortably."
-After setting a goal, plan your time accordingly. (a sample practice schedule has been posted below)
-At the end of your practice session, revisit your goal to see if you have achieved it.  PRACTICING SMALL BITS AT A TIME DAILY CAN BE MORE EFFECTIVE THEN PRACTICING A BIG PORTION OF MUSIC OVER AND OVER.

Warm Ups/Scales/Exercises...
-Your teacher can assign you a warm up appropriate for your level, and it will vary depending on your level.  A beginner may practice good posture as a warm-up as to where a seasoned player will practice 3-octave scales and etudes as a warm up.
-***A NOTE ON THE PURPOSE OF PRACTICING:  You will come across some warm ups and exercises that may seem dull, tedious, or too easy.  They may not have all the "brilliance" or "show-stopping-music" that a solo piece has.  Remind yourself of your goal and that the purpose of practicing is to enhance and advance in technique.  Warm ups and exercises will unknowingly ENHANCE your solo pieces, and should therefore be taken just as serious as your solo piece.***

Tuners and Metronomes...
-These are great tools to use while practicing in order to build consistency in your playing/singing.
-Every once in a while, try practicing without them to make sure you do not become dependent on them.  Doing so will also gradually internalize tempos and intonation, a.k.a. ear training.

-Music is made up entirely of scales.
-If you know your scales really well, then your solo pieces will be A LOT easier!

Isolate the hard stuff...
-It's simple.  Find, mark, and focus on the passages that are harder.
-Sometimes the difficult portion will be half of a page of music...sometimes it will be one measure in the entire piece and that's okay.
-Isolate it and work at it until you can play it backwards without music.  After doing this, put the passage back into context, meaning, play it along with the few measures that come before and after it.  (Note: Practicing a passage backwards will do wonders for your practicing.)


(Schedule A: 30 minutes) (Schedule B: 45 minutes) (Schedule C: 60 minutes)

Set a goal 
(A: 1 minute) (B: 1-2 minutes) (C: 2-5 minutes)
-If you have a longer practice session you can try setting two goals

(A: 5 minutes) (B: 5-7 minutes) (C: 10 minutes)


(A: 15 minutes) (B: 20 minutes) (C: 20 minutes)

(C: If you're practicing for 60 minutes, then at this time you may want to take a quick break)

Solo Piece
(A: 10 Minutes) (B: 15 Minutes) (C: 20 Minutes)

Were you able to accomplish your goal?

Josue Reyna is a violin, viola, and flute instructor at The Musik Planet.   Read more about him     here.

Josue Reyna is a violin, viola, and flute instructor at The Musik Planet.   Read more about him here.