How Good is Your Practice? Quality vs. Quantity
It makes a big difference HOW you practice, not just how much time you spend
“How many hours do I need to practice my instrument each week?” It’s the age-old questions, isn’t it? We’ll get back to it in a second, but did you know there’s actually a different question that’s much, much more important? The question you should be asking is…
When you practice, HOW should you practice?
Practicing is important, but you’ll never get very much out of it if you don’t practice well. What does that mean?
First off, good practice is deliberate, not mindless. You see plenty of musicians young and old who sit down and run through a piece over and over again until they can play through it. There’s value in that, but they could be getting so much more! Mindless practice is boring. Deliberate practice sets specific goals, works on specific skills, and makes the musician better.
The biggest difference between mindless practice and deliberate practice is that it is mentally engaging. The musician is paying close attention to what he or she is doing.
If you’re having trouble setting a practice goal, try one of these suggestions:
- Take a simple piece of music you already know well and exaggerate all the dynamic changes. Be as smooth as you can through every crescendo and decrescendo. See how softly you can play while maintaining good pitch.
- Isolate a difficult technical section and slow it down to half its normal tempo. Take care to hit every note correctly in tempo, with good attacks and releases on each note. Gradually speed back up. Push yourself, but never go faster than you’re able to play the section correctly.
- Experiment to learn. Practicing is really learning how your instrument works. Take a piece you know, and invent variations on it. Play it through staccato. Play it through with accents. Try swinging the piece. Listen to how your instrument sounds with each technique. Test how each technique feels on your fingers. Pay attention to how you can improve on each technique.
Goals are everywhere in music. Just remember: keep your mind engaged. Don’t go through the motions. You’ll be amazed by the results. Focus on the quality of the practice, not the quantity. Identify the things you need to learn, and work to get better at them!