Posted by StringOvation Team on May 26, 2017
During the first few weeks of music instruction, the excitement of learning to play a string instrument makes practicing fun. New students are often eager to try to improve their skills and will grab their instrument and practice with gusto. However after a while, your daily practice regimen can begin to pale. Once you get stuck in a rut, practicing becomes more like a dreaded chore rather than an opportunity to improve. Although you know that regular practice is crucial for development, when your routine feels monotonous, the benefits you can gain actually begin to diminish.
Many musicians practice by rote, without thinking. That kind of practice doesn’t help you improve and it only supports any bad habits you’ve developed. You can prevent that from happening by developing a practice schedule that doesn’t feel like work. One that engages your attention and delivers measureable results after each session.
Whether you’re a professional musician or a struggling student, the key to creating a practice routine that improves your skills quickly is to make it less like work. The following tips offer a number of options for making your practice schedule effective and fun.
#1: Define Your Spaces
If you don’t have specific spaces designed for your practice area your concentration will suffer. It’s good to have an indoor and outdoor location prepared in order to generate a mental connection for instruction. The areas should feature a pencil, eraser, tuner, music stand, timer, and chair. Alternating between different surroundings can help prevent monotony and make your practice schedule less like work and more like fun.
#2: Outline Your Goals
Without a specific goal for the practice session, you can end up skimming through old music and generally become bored with your exercises. You need to identify the skill you want to improve before you sit down with your instrument. For example, perhaps you want to work on your timing. You can use scales that you’ve mastered and play them using different rhythms, note values, etc. Outlining what you want to accomplish before you start will make practice seem less of a chore and more of an opportunity to enhance your ability.
#3: Use Deliberate Practice Techniques
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned player, you should understand what deliberate practice is and how to execute it. Essentially, it involves avoiding practice by auto-pilot. When you use this technique, you can practice less while gaining greater benefits from the time you put in. A number of recent studies have confirmed it. Aspects include:
- Rather than working on music by playing through the entire piece, identify the measures that are difficult for you and play only those, very slowly.
- Reduce the tempo. When practicing, don’t worry so much about the actual beats per minute, slow it down and concentrate on execution.
- Visualize how the piece should sound. Effective musicians have an auditory representation of the music in their mind and then practice to reproduce it.
#4: Mix It Up and Schedule Segments
An easy way to make your practice seem like dreaded work is to focus on a single problem. Avoid this by arranging your practice schedule with variety. Include things you like to do, interspersed with challenges. For example, if you love playing a particular piece of music, start off with it. Although scales are crucial, if they’re not your favorite, don’t use them to warm up. When creating your practice schedule, begin with exercises that you enjoy and use your timer to allocate five and ten minute segments. Alternate challenges with fun stuff and you won’t feel like the practice is a chore. Remember, you don’t have to play each piece from the beginning.
#5: Add Physical Elements
Research has found that when you combine playing with some other physical activity your brain will try to forge new neural pathways. So, if you have been working on a specific challenge without much success, try playing it by standing on one foot or walking around. By forcing your mind to concentrate on both tasks, when you go back to the original task, it will be easier. This technique adds a fun element to practice, making it less static.
#6: Reward Yourself
Too many musicians ignore this aspect of practice, but giving yourself rewards for hard work can help your brain develop a habit loop. Basically, a habit loop involves a cue, a routine, and a reward. Discovering exactly what your brain likes, regardless of what it is, and then rewarding yourself with it will eventually infuse your practice schedule with eagerness. Rather than considering it work, you’ll look forward to it.
Making your practice schedule something fun takes time, but the effort is worth it. By adding the right elements, you’ll improve your skills and begin to look forward to your daily practice.