Exercising Your Practice Time

by Metro Music Makers instructor Aria Taboada

Anyone who takes a musical instrument will hear the same thing from their teacher: ”Be sure to practice!” Did you know there are more effective ways to maximize your practice time? Think of practicing your instrument like exercising. Like any exercise, you have to start out on the level you are comfortable with, and build up from there. Here are three ways you can maximize your results with minimal time.

Step 1: Interval Training

Many students make the mistake of burning themselves out by practicing for prolonged periods of time right away. With a new instrument, you are not only learning a new skill, but you may be using muscles and movements that you are not used to. Instead of practicing for a solid hour, try to do 10 minutes of focused practicing at a time. Take a break, then try 10 minutes again. You can do this as many times as you would like throughout the day, but the break helps you to retain all the new information you are learning, as well as helping your body get used to all the new movements.

Step 2: Strength Training

Although playing an instrument doesn’t always take much physical strength, it does take a lot of mental strength. If your teacher has assigned you a piece to practice, try to avoid playing through the whole piece. This can result in lack of attention to details and bad mental “form.” Instead, take very small sections at a time. Focus on the details: dynamics, tempo, phrasing and technique, and practice that small section over and over again. This may seem more tedious, but you will in fact learn the piece much more quickly than if you were to just play it through over and over.

Step 3: Distance Training

Like a runner training for a marathon, you have conditioned yourself for a long “run,” or a long practice session now. Once you have mastered all the small sections through short, focused practice sessions, try to set aside a little more time to run through the whole piece to get it performance- or lesson-ready. This is only to be done after you feel confident that you have learned each section thoroughly with all the details. You may also find that it helps to record yourself playing or singing. Listen back to your recording for anything you might want to change.

As with any new skill, practice takes a lot of time and patience. Pace yourself, but stay focused on your end goal, which is making beautiful music for yourself and others. You are going to do great!

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