Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.
In the world of music, it’s pretty safe to say that we don’t like to practice. Performances are more fun and we get the instant gratification of an audience’s admiration, but practice is boring, repetitive, and can seem to lead nowhere. Unfortunately, practice can be a pretty painful subject for many musicians, maybe because there are so many approaches taken by our friends and teachers. It’s almost impossible to get through life as a musician without having at least one bad practice experience, and it’s equally impossible to achieve the perfect practice session. For many, this means giving up on the idea of practice and simply jumping in, playing until it sounds acceptable. But that’s not real practice, and it probably won’t get you the performance you want to give your audience. If you’re looking for some practical tips to apply to your practice sessions, check out the following list and approach your next session with a fresh perspective and useful tools.
1. Getting Your Head in the Game
Like many things in life, practice goes much better if you can focus on it exclusively. This means getting rid of distractions like your cell phone, your schedule, and your worries. Anything that beeps should be turned off. Thinking about what you have to do once you’ve finished practicing can drastically decrease the efficiency of your session, so set a timer if you have to, but don’t keep looking at the clock. And while you’re practicing, pretend you’re someone who doesn’t have normal day-to-day worries. Just get in the zone and get your work done right.
If you need a little extra motivation to give yourself a good practice session, you might need to invest a few minutes in thinking about the benefits of practicing before you start. Practice gives you a chance to develop your style, correct mistakes, and make a mess of things in every way possible before you perform. Making mistakes in practice is the best way to prevent them from happening later on when it’s important to play or sing perfectly. Even more importantly, practicing is one of the best ways to become truly familiar with a piece of music, learn to manipulate it effectively, and own it.
2. Disciplining Your Body
The funny thing about practice is that you need to do it correctly in order for it to be successful. Sure, it’s there as a safety net to catch your mistakes before you make them during a performance, but you should be trying to avoid mistakes as much as possible. Practice establishes muscle memory, and if you make redundant mistakes, you’ll be more likely to repeat them in front of an audience. So it’s important to stop playing or singing right away when you hear a mistake, go back, correct it, and practice the revised approach at least five times without further mistakes. Next, back up a few lines and try coming into the problematic passage without slipping. Once you feel confident, you should feel free to move on, but it might help to run passages like this again at the end of your practice session to ensure correct and lasting muscle memory.
3. Soulful Practice = Soulful Performance
Being a musician is a lot like acting – it helps if you can feel what you’re trying to express. Flat, dead music is often the result of monotonous practice that’s focused entirely on the technical side of music. While it’s great to be able to play accurately, music needs some humanity behind it – otherwise, we would be replaced by robots and computers already. So let your music speak to you if you want your audience to hear something. To achieve this, use as much variety in your practice as possible. Try different combinations of tempi, dynamics, voicing, and even instrumentation to understand what the music wants to say. Playing your melodic lines on a different instrument or even singing them can help you internalize them as living notes with infinite possibilities for expression. The more emotion you can inject during practice, the more your audience will identify with you when you’re on stage.
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