Recently, I was asked by one of my students how to practice more effectively. This student didn’t have a lot of time to practice, and was looking to get the most out of their time.
Normally I avoid these types of questions, because practice is so unique to everyone. At any time a person can be at any stage in their learning, and no exact schedule is going to work for everyone.
However, I believe that there are a few things that all musicians can take into consideration that can help them get the most out of their time.
1. More Does Not Always Mean Better
The idea that the more time you spend in the practice room, the better musician you will become is a sure fire way to waste time. When I was attending music school, I heard it all the time: “I practiced 8 hours today”, or “Sonny Rollins still practices 12 hours every day”.
Not only does this thinking force you to spend unnecessary time locked away in a practice room, it can lead to stress and mental fatigue. Even worse, this sort of activity is hardly sustainable, and it can easily lead to you dropping off and never wanting to practice again.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Sadly, almost all musicians fall for this. Back in school, If I only had a “practice session” for 4 hours instead of 8, I would feel guilty for not practicing longer. This would lead to feelings of depression, anger, and jealousy of my peers who would spend more time in their rooms than me.
More time does not equal more progress
However, most of what I considered “practice” during those 8 hour sessions (I’m assuming the same goes for nearly all of my peers) lacked any real substance at all. If I was really trying to learn how to become an effective practicer, I would have been able to condense all of my real progress into an hour or two a day, leaving me with plenty of time for guilt free playing on my drum kit.
2. There is a Difference Between “Practicing” and “Having Fun”
There seems to be a lot of confusion behind the word “practice”. Practice is about painstakingly rehearsing something over and over until it becomes engrained in our muscle memory. We practice so that we will have the skills necessary when it comes time to perform.
For starters, there is a difference between practicing and having fun on the kit. Practicing music CAN be fun, but that does not mean that it HAS to be.
Sometimes practice is no fun at all. Proper practice involves zoning in and addressing problem areas of your craft. It does not mean to play the same licks you always do over and over, or to play the same etude a thousand times in a row. When you play what you already know, you are not learning anything new.
The better you get the more fun you’ll have
Practice can be hard work that leaves you frustrated, confused, and feeling worse than before you began. However, practice is essential for growth in ANY profession.
Personally, I love to put on my favorite records and play along to the music, however, I do not consider this “practice”. As I will explain later, enjoying your time in the practice room is important for overall growth and enjoyment of music, but if you aren’t pinpointing and working on areas of your playing that need improvement, you are not “practicing”.
3. Begin Each Practice Session with a Plan
Everyone makes this mistake. We go into the practice room with an overwhelming list of things in our heads that we need to improve upon. That’s great. The problem occurs when we spend the next two hours playing along to our favorite Rush record and accomplish nothing.
Careful planning is the best way to make sure that you stay on track and accomplish what you set out to do with each session. Before you begin practicing, write down exactly what you are trying to work on, and WORK ON IT. Distractions will always be there, that’s why planning helps you stay the path.
Try to start small and build up. Remember that practicing is a lifelong pursuit, not just a one and done session. At the very least you should have one thing in your mind that will make you feel successful if you can accomplish it that day.
Going into the practice room aimlessly is a great way to end up getting nothing done. We are trying to get better, not only have a good time.
4. Work on your Weaknesses, Not your Strengths
Everyone always says this one, but it makes a lot of sense. The idea behind practice is to improve upon your weaknesses so that you are ready to showcase your strengths on the bandstand.
Each musician is better at certain things than others, and when they play, those strengths will naturally present themselves. However, it is the effective musician that will practice upon their weaknesses, and build them into strengths.
Practice: If you sound good, it’s time to move onto something else
Additionally, when you learn something new, you have no idea how it can affect what you already know. New skills will manifest themselves into ways that you didn’t think possible. Lastly, building up your weaknesses will make your strengths even greater.
You are not supposed to sound good when you are learning something new. As a general rule:
5. Allow Time for the Fun Stuff
Now that I’ve managed to suck all the fun out of practicing, you probably won’t even bother with it. Well, don’t forget that the idea is to actually learn something, not reinforce what you already know.
However, if you’re properly planning and accomplishing what you set out to do that day, you should be left with plenty of free time. In fact, if you stick to these rules, your practice time will be cut down a huge amount.
Now you’ll have nothing but free time on your hands. This is when you can blast fast licks, play as loud as you can, and mess around on your instrument.
It’s important to feel happy with your learning, but also to decompress and have a good time. If you don’t have any fun, you won’t stick with it.
If you can change the way you view your practicing habits, you should be able to accomplish a lot more in less time. Ask yourself “is this what I want to be getting better at?” every time you practice, and you’ll be learning more, much faster.
How do you practice? Comment down below and discuss!