All of us musicians have been there. An overwhelming piece of sheet music looming before us with a mountain of notes! At times, not even hours of practice can seem to help perfect a few measures. What we don't realize sometimes that it's not necessarily how much we practice, but how we practice that gets us the best results. Here are a few ways to cut your practice time in half and get the same or better results!
- Interval Training: Like trying to cram for a test, taking on all your practicing for the week in one or two days is frustrating. It will lead to sloppy notes and improper technique. Instead, try this...practice a little every day, and also divide your time into separate sessions. For example, if your goal is to practice an hour every day, do 30 minutes in the morning before you leave for school/work. Then do 30 minutes when you come home later. This gives your brain time to rest and process what you have learned. You will find that when you leave a piece, and come back to it later, your mind will be clearer, and the music will be easier to play.
- Switch It Up: When it comes to large pieces, it is very easy to get stuck on the first page. I have done this many times, as I want to get the first part perfect before I move on. It is not a bad thing to leave a section to work on another part of the song. I encourage students not to always start at the beginning when they practice, but to choose a specific section that they want to work on that day. Sometimes they even start from the end section of the song and work their way to the beginning. This gives a little variety, which can make practicing more interesting as well. If there is a small section in the piece that is problematic, mark it, and go straight to that section when you start practicing. It takes discipline, but it pays off!
- Start Slowly: The worse thing you can do in your practice session is practice incorrectly! Slow down, and make sure that every note, dynamic, and rhythm is perfect. When you are comfortable, speed it up. My favorite tool for this is my metronome (Around $25 at most music stores, but a free download-able app on any smart phone if you have one). This little device keeps the beat for you to ensure perfect tempo control. Start it out slowly, then as you get more comfortable, bump it up a couple of notches. Keep this up and before you know it, you are up to speed!
Try these simple practice techniques at home, and your practicing will be pleasant, and go much more smoothly. And remember, exercises are important, but also choose pieces that you love. Because at the end of the day, music is a beautiful way to express yourself, and it should be fun!
Contributed by Aria Taboada-Martins, violin and piano instructor. Aria attended Georgia State University with a concentration in music education and violin performance. Aria has been teaching in the Metro Atlanta area since 1999 and joined the Metro Music Makers team in 2009. She has performed with various small classical groups including the Atlanta Youth Symphony and Cobb Symphony Orchestra, and she was featured on the debut album for the latino-jazz band, Segundo Sol.