Question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Answer: Practice, practice, practice!
Here’s the thing about music practice. See, it doesn’t matter if you have aspirations of playing and singing at family gatherings or if you dream of opening for that big name pop star. It doesn’t matter if you envision yourself touring the world on a melody in your heart or of auditioning for that gateway role that will open the door to your destiny. It doesn’t even matter if you really want to get to Carnegie Hall. Whatever your musical dream is, the one thing that remains at the core your success is how you practice. Give yourself a leg up in the land of music and take a look at these tips for music practice. Also, be sure to read to the end to find handy and FREE practice charts- one for vocalists, and the other for pianists.
Set a Goal
If you’re purely interested in wasting time and exerting mindless effort, please go right ahead and just sit down at the piano and start playing, or if you’re a vocalist, please go right on into your practice space and aimlessly sing. If you’re going to make the most of your time, you’re going to need to make a plan as to what you need and what to get done for your allotted time frame. Do you want to memorize an entire piece? Just the most challenging section? Do you need to work out the fingering of that difficult passage? Do you need to work on strengthening your breath support and increasing your stamina for getting through that demanding phrase? If you are going into your practice space with a goal in mind, your focus will be clear and you’ll be motivated to reach that goal.
Log Your Practice
Keeping the previous tip in mind, when you set your goals, write them down in your log so that when you’re finished practicing, you can assess your success as to whether or not you accomplished your goal. If you didn’t meet your goal, think about what impeded your progress. If you did meet your goal, think about what contributed to your success.
Don’t Eat the Entire Elephant in One Day
Elephants are massive creatures. Sometimes the music we practice can seem to be as big as a whale- or elephant in this case. You can’t eat the elephant in one entire day. Let’s apply this line of thought to your music practice. If your music instructor tasks you with practicing for three hours a day (hey, I used to practice for 3-4 hours almost daily), that doesn’t mean that your music practice should be done with an hour glass you flip over in a practice room that is under lock and key until you’ve reached the 3-hour mark! Effective practice takes focus and concentration- and the efforts of such can be quite draining. You can break those three hours down into one-hour sessions. Now you’ll be more focused for each smaller session and make more efficient use of your time. The amount of time you practice is relative to what instrument you’re practicing. A pianist may have built up the stamina to practice and play for two hours straight, but this amount of practice time is never to be recommended for a singer. So eat elephant steaks, elephant spam, elephant stew, elephant burgers instead of eating the entire elephant in one day.
It’s NOT About Playing Through Your Music
Of course, there will certainly be times when you are preparing for a performance that will require you to play or sing through your entire piece for the purposes of assessing your memorization and increasing your stamina. However, when you’re only beginning to learn a piece, playing or singing the entire song can actually be a hindrance to your growth. If you are still experiencing technical difficulties or making memorization mistakes, you’ll only “program” those mistakes into your muscle memory. It will be twice as hard to shake those mistakes in the long run because you inadvertently ingrained them into your brain when you first began practicing. Perfecting smaller sections of your piece and then stringing the smaller pieces together in a bracelet made of melodies will be the most beneficial means of practicing. You’ll have a pretty bracelet made of your entire piece instead of a jagged iteration of what your piece could become.
Do it Again, and Again, and Again….
Four times, ten times, thirty times, one hundred times. In order to break a habit, you’ll need to do something the correct way 100 times. Okay, well maybe not 100 times, but you get the idea. Every time you mess up that melisma or bend a blue note to it’s breaking point, you will have to repeat that passage the correct way twenty-eleventeen more times until the passage becomes a fully functioning and capable part of your muscle memory.
Set up Your Practice Space for Success
No dinging bells, whistles, or whirls from your phone, no Netflix, no Facetime, no Snap Chat, and Pokemon Go is a no-go. Free your practice space of distractions and stock up on the tools you need to ensure you’re able to practice efficiently. Make sure your space is quiet and your environment is at a steady and comfortable temperature. Ensure that your practice space is well lit. Turn OFF your phone so that you’re not tempted to see who tagged you in a post or check your messages or get that phone call from your mother at the most inconvenient time (remember the Geico commercial). Keep a metronome, pencils, unlined paper for note taking, a mirror, your music and technique books, your practice log, some water, and any other instrument-specific accessories you may need in your creative space to practice.
Mind Your Warm-Up
If you thought you could skip warming up, you were wrong. You should always start your practice with warmups. Before you let your vocals run circles around the scale or let your fingers plink those ivories, keep your intent in mind. Apply your intent to your warmups. Dismiss stray thoughts of what’s for dinner. The purpose of a warm-up is to hone and craft your technique, not just to get your muscles moving. You are preparing your body and mind for the work you are about to do, so you must be mentally present. As you work through your exercises, check in with yourself and monitor how your are feeling and how you are breathing. When you sense tension, misalignment, or any other impedance, get your head back in the game and do your best to alleviate the aggravation- even when the work gets tedious or feels monotonous.
Get it on Tape
Hey, I know a few of you are a bit weirded out about listening to or seeing yourself on film, but you’re going to help yourself by making an audio or video recording of your practice sessions. As you listen back to the audio or playback the video, you’ll likely catch some awesome- or not so awesome things that you did in the course of your practice session. Self-analysis can help you identify issues with tone and tension, places you should or shouldn’t breathe, or highlight some really cool shining moments of musical success. Now, this is probably the easiest tip for you to tackle, and using your phone is totally allowed here. Take your phone, make sure the camera is capturing all your amazingness and hit the record button. Put your phone in “airplane” or “do not disturb” mode so you won’t be tempted to play Candy Crush.
It’s not About Your Instrument Either
From the very first utterance of a note from your instrument or voice, you were an artist. If you want to be an informed performer who crafts his/her musicianship, you will have to practice so that you have the opportunities to engage your musical intellect. Now this doesn’t always mean you’ll have to sit behind a piano in order to get the job done. A part of practicing involves active listening to and analysis of great and not so great artists. Figure out what it is that makes these artists a hit or a miss. Practicing involves studying the history performance practice of a particular piece. It’s very likely that there are many people who have already performed the piece you’re currently looking to master. Watch how other folks have practiced and performed the piece you’re working on. It’s your job to take what’s black and white and boxed in on paper and translate it into a colorful cacophony of awe-inspiring sounds, but you can’t do your job if you don’t understand the original meaning of a piece. What was the writer’s intent for this selection? What was going on in their world at the time the piece was written? Why does this particular piece resonate so greatly with you? Give yourself some time during practice to discover and expand your knowledge about your music, your instrument, and your artistry.
Every Day is Practice Day
Yep. I said it. Every day is practice day. If you take just twenty minutes in the morning before the kids wake up, fifteen minutes of singing on your drive to work, or your child practices for thirty minutes while you prepare dinner, you’re on the right path. This is far better than practicing for two hours on just one day out of the week. There’s no penalty card waved if you don’t practice for three hours every day. You have seven days to do something to make yourself a better musician. There can be no fear of commitment when the music is calling you. A small victory is a victory nonetheless, even if the only thing you were able to accomplish was getting through your warm-ups and you never even touched your repertoire. The consistency of your commitment will lead you to the big payoff. Do yourself a huge favor and commit to practicing every day.
If you really want to take your musicianship to the next level and read an excellent book by Takenya Battle, head on over and check out “Is My Child Ready for Music Lessons? A Guide for Parents”. This book has been a #1 Best Seller on Amazon and has been given great reviews. “10 Reasons Why Piano Scales are Important: How to Practice With Purpose” is now also available for purchase.
So what other practice tips do you have? Let us know in the comments below.
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As a thank you for reading to the end, here are two practice charts you may enjoy.
They are full of tips and suggestions to help you make the most of your practice time.