practice coffee book

Practice: it’s what makes us good musicians! It is also the number one thing most musicians complain about online! Why is this? Well, because practice takes discipline, and that’s hard sometimes. Here’s how to make practice easier.

Make it a habit. Every semester, I choose a time every day of the week to practice. Hopefully, it’s close to the same time every day, but no matter what, I set aside an hour to go to the practice room. By the third week of classes, going straight to the practice room between, say, history and choir is a habit, and I don’t have to convince myself to do it. It’s just what I do.

This means that you have to stick with the habit when you’re forming it! No wandering off to Taco Bell or the music lounge during your dedicated time. There will be time for those things later, once you’ve made practice easier.

Set tiny goals for each practice session. Something that sucks about practice is that it takes time for you to improve noticeably. This can be discouraging in the best of circumstances. To counteract this, set tiny goals during each session, like “playing X phrase 5 bpm fast,” or “memorizing bars 18-24.” Work on other things too! However, by achieving one small goal, you’ll have something to ward off frustration regarding other issues you face. It makes the sometimes endless-feeling monotony of the practice room less irritating.

Stop when you can’t focus. If you really just can’t get anything done, then be done. There’s no point in banging your head against a wall. If you force yourself to practice when you’re feeling exhausted, you’re just stressing yourself out for minimum improvement. It’s better to have 45 minutes of productive practice than two hours staring angrily at a page. Come back to it later – it will be okay.

Do silent practice. I call this tablework. Use colored pencils to highlight every dynamic and direction in the piece. Tap out rhythms without your instrument. Research the piece. Listen to a couple people perform it while studying the music (steal their inflections if you like them!). Translate foreign languages, or recite lyrics as you’d speak them. Anything other than practicing the music itself is fair game. It’s important to mix stuff up from time to time. Tablework helps us keep a wide variety of emotional and intellectual tools available to us in our performance. That’s just as important as playing the right notes!

Practice can feel tedious, but it’s important. Be kind to yourself, and be reasonably disciplined, and you’ll get much further than by martyring yourself for your instrument. I promise it will make your practice easier. You got this!

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