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Thursday, 8 September 2011

Perfect Practice for Perfect Performance

September is a time of new beginnings.  School starts and like clock work, students return to their weekly music lessons.  Sometimes I feel as though I should just record myself saying one sentence over and over again; "It is NOT the quantity of your practice so much as the QUALITY."  Most time this statement falls on deaf ears.

Remember, your lesson time is the time that you show your teacher how you are doing at the moment, and the progress you have made since your last lesson.  Your teacher will tell you what you need to work on next, and how to work on it. You don't really have time to practice or improve during your lesson, only to get the insight into how to improve. Make notes, or record your lessons to get the most for your investment. If the only time you play your instrument is during your lesson, your progress will be extremely slow.  Rehearsals with a group such as band, orchestra, choir or other ensemble are for the improvement of the group and for practicing playing together.  This doesn't allow you to  actually work on learning the music or on the technique of becoming a better musician.  Performances are for letting everyone enjoy the progress you have made. They are times for you to enjoy making music and not times to have to be worried about the technical details of the music or your personal technique. These are not times for actual progress, so even if you show up for every lesson, rehearsal, and performance, your progress will be minimal.  Individual music practice is crucial if you want to become the best musician.  Your teacher can give you a guideline as to the amount of practice time they expect, and help you to set goals and circle areas that need improvement.

Students tend to be afraid of repetition, however, as unpopular as this may be repetition is the key to perfect practice.  Most teachers would be more pleased with a perfected section of a piece than hearing the entire song practiced poorly with many mistakes.  We as musicians do a great deal of repeating, in practice, we necessarily repeat material to refine our skills, assimilate compositions, interpret, and keep our repertoire strong.  Through methodical use of repetition, and attention to detail, we master material faster minimizing our errors and thereby minimize our need to repeat.  Errors should be embraced as the keys to our improvement, by spending more time in weaker areas being vigilant in our correctness, we improve, and do not ingrain mistake-ridden habits.  We solve problems our instead of making new ones.  With each repetition of a passage, we strive to grow and change, we might strive for something different each time; better support, cleaner diction, stronger connection, or to be stronger in our character.  Whatever the intention behind the repetition, it should be meaningful leading to more ease and greater musicianship.  Repetition should light a fire within as you hear the dynamic changes in each passage you focus on, and thereby add passion to your practice.  If practice is always drudgery, than you are doing something wrong. Please don't be afraid to focus on your mistakes, studies show less students quit because they're not practicing than because their practice time isn't spent in quality practice.  Don't become a statistic, become a musician!

Listening is also a key to good practice.  If possible, tape your teacher performing your repertoire, find a professional on YouTube, or download the album online from someplace like iTunes.  This is not for you to copy or learn to emulate the  sounds you are hearing, but instead to get a better feeling for the mood and flow of the piece.  However, singing or playing along with a recording of a piece is NOT good practice, and should be avoided.

Please warm-up before practicing, you wouldn't consider running the block without stretching, so why would you play without giving your body the best chance to prepare.  Also, through our warm-up, we improve our technique, and technique is the key principal to good musicianship.

  • Try to practice at least once a day for a total 30 minutes. Every day you don't practice sets you back two day, so even if you can't spare 30 minutes, do something every day.
  • Always be aware of what your body is telling you. Practice in front of a mirror because Posture is an important part of technique and must be practiced.
  • If a section is frustrating, don't abandon it, that will only ingrain it as a problem spot, and make conquering it much more difficult. With methodical repetition you will overcome any problem. We practice things we already do well and avoid the things we find difficult. Force yourself work on the things that you can't do well and your progress will be faster and more difficult things will be a welcome challenge.
  • If you are learning a fast piece of music, first practice it slowly until you know the notes very well. Avoid the temptation to speed up easier sections, as that will lead to tempo mistakes and difficulties later. Increase speed little by little perfecting it in small pieces measure by measure.
  • Listen to yourself as you practice! It is so easy to get caught up in technical aspects of the music that we forget the Art. The Art cannot be lost in your practice, so express yourself and have fun.
Remember, nobody can force you to practice well, however, you will only see improvement through solid individual practice. Only you can do this, but without it, you will never become a good musician.

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