How I Practice
Practice: we all have to do it. We spend hours with our instruments trying to somehow walk out of the practice room as a better musician than when we walked in, but chances are, there will be a little frustration along the way. Here are some tips I’ve gathered from teachers, fellow musicians, and my own experiences that have made my practice sessions a lot more productive and fulfilling.
1. Figure out what your peak hours are.
For some, it’s 8 A.M. For me, I’ve always been the most productive in the evening, so I structure my day so that I can practice then. Try out different times of day, and figure out when is the best time for you to practice. Make these hours a part of your daily routine, and try as best you can to not schedule anything else during those times.
2. Quality, not quantity!
I can’t emphasize this one enough. I think I get asked how many hours I practice each day more often than what my name is, and it’s a little frustrating. I understand why setting quotas seems like a convenient way to check off a box each day—I got in “x” hours of practice, so now I’m done and can do whatever I want! The reality is that I accomplish a different amount in an hour of practice than Martha Argerich does, and she accomplishes a different amount in an hour than your eight year-old-cousin who just started playing the violin does. A certain amount of practice time means different things for different musicians, and trying to hit a certain checkpoint lead to inattentive, inefficient practicing.
3. Set super specific goals.
Along the lines of the last tip, goal-oriented practicing can make your time in the practice room so much more efficient. It’s daunting to sit down, open up the music, and set yourself to the task of “play this better”. I find it so helpful to set specific, small goals (like “play these eight measures at half tempo in sixteenth note groupings”), and check them off as I go. I try to establish what those goals are before I even play a note, so that I know how I’m going to use my practice time. Even if your goal is “learn notes of the third movement,” have a plan of mini-tasks that will help you accomplish that. It always helps to have a plan.
4. Reward yourself!
When you accomplish those goals, be proud! Reward yourself with some break time—or my personal preference, something edible. I have no shame in admitting that I still occasionally resort to having a bag of peanut M&M’s nearby and letting myself eat one for each goal that I accomplish. I learned that one in elementary school, but it somehow still motivates me at age twenty-two.
5. Know your limits.
It’s so important to listen to your body when it’s telling you to stop—maintaining your physical and mental health is so important. It’s a marathon, not a race, right? Know when your body and brain are fatigued, and give yourself a break. If you try to keep practicing, you probably won’t accomplish much, and you might even set yourself further back.
6. Stay positive, and remember that this is a labor of love.
I think some of the harshest criticism we musicians face comes from ourselves in the practice room. Self-criticism is good when it’s constructive, but try not to get too down on yourself. Keep your goals in mind, and remember what the huge payoff of an awesome, well-prepared performance feels like. It’ll be worth it in the end!