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Simple Strategies for Effective Practicing

Make a plan

Think about what you want to accomplish during your practice session. For example, maybe you plan to spend 10 minutes on scales, 20 minutes on a new piece, and 15 minutes on a partially completed piece. Setting goals will help keep you motivated while also helping you practice more efficiently. It’s also rewarding to “check off” goals as you complete them.

Begin with a fun warmup

For those of you who find it difficult to sit down to practice in the first place, this one is especially important. A warmup is important for any practice session since it mentally and physically prepares you for playing. If your warmup is enjoyable, you will look forward to it. This will make it easier to sit down to play.

Do the hardest material first

Since your brain will be fresher at the beginning of your practice session, this is the best time to tackle difficult material. A benefit of doing the most difficult work first is that it will make the less difficult work feel even easier. This strategy also prevents procrastination that frequently leads to avoidance.

Focus on small sections

Unless you’re specifically working on your ability to play through a piece without stopping, don’t try to improve by simply playing beginning to end. Pick one section of music that needs to improve and focus on perfecting that section before moving on. The section should be small. Think two measures to two lines.

Play slowly enough to play perfectly

Anytime you struggle with playing something, slow it down enough so that you can play it perfectly. This allows you to hear exactly what’s going wrong and make a deliberate correction. At a slower pace, your brain can process information more effectively. Use a metronome to slowly build up the speed.

Follow a consistent practice schedule

I used to save all of my practicing for 2 or 3 days then have practice marathons. For the most part, it worked, but it was stressful and tiring. I now set shorter time limits and practice 6 days per week. I make the same progress with less time and less stress. It’s better to practice 5 or 6 days per week for 1 hour per day as opposed to 2 or 3 days per week for 20 minutes then 4 hours. One reason why this is true is because consistency helps make practicing a habit rather than something you do when you feel like it. Consistency also helps you get better faster since you get to consolidate everything you’ve learned with additional nights of sleep.

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