Strategies for Productive Practice

10 strategies for productive practice and improving your musicianship

If you practice, you will improve. There are many ways to practice, though, and some are more productive than others. In recent years, there has been a fair amount of research about what types of practice lead to the greatest advances. Below, we have listed ten strategies that can help you, no matter what instrument you play.

Vary what you practice, and keep your mind engaged. Simply drilling scales and arpeggios is just one dimension. Beyond technical exercises, include repertoire study, ear training, improvisation, timing, theory study, listening, expressivity development, memorization, composing, and other aspects of musicianship in your regular practice.

Strategies for improving your musicianship

Asian musician playing flute between pianos during music lesson
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Organize your practice by week and by month, as well as by individual session. You can’t study every dimension of music every day, but you might be able to hit several of the major ones every week. Dividing up goals over several days can make it less tedious. For example, practicing arpeggios via a special website such as an essay writer website in all keys every day can take a significant amount of time. Instead, you might try three keys one day, three different keys the next day, and so on. Over four days, you’ll hit every key. Over a month, you can hit every key in all the modes.

1) Track How You Spend Your Time

Use a practice log, perhaps in a music lessons notebook. Use it to make sure you are covering all bases, rather than just the ones you like.

2) Don’t Do Anything for More than 25 Minutes

Certainly, not more than 45 minutes. Your concentration will wane after 25 minutes, and the benefits will diminish. It is much more effective to practice for a short while, do something else, and then return to the first task.

3) Make It Difficult

Practice making and then recovering from mistakes. Introduce variations into patterns, such as replacing notes with random other choices or lyrics within an exercise. Turn on the TV or some music, while you play. Switch hands. We learn the most by solving problems, and we are more likely to remember what we did when we are trying hard to overcome an obstacle. Sure, keep it “fun,” but more importantly, keep it interesting and challenging.

4) Rehearse at the Same Time of Day that You Will Perform

While you might be generally more productive if you practice, say, in the early morning, you should also be used to being on the top of your game in the evenings, or whenever you are likely to perform. Similarly, vary the location of where you practice, to get some experience in different environments. That said, keeping a regular practice time will help ingrain the habit of practice, and that needs to be the priority.

5) Record Your Practice and Listen Back to Every Session

You will learn much by listening to yourself play. It might be painful at first, but you will get used to it, and find many specific ways that you can make your performances better. Also video yourself playing, both to work on your general stage presence and to help identify problems with posture or technique.

6) Isolate Where You Are Making Mistakes

Once you can play the problem area, practice arriving at it, starting from a few measures before it. Create technical exercises based on this difficult spot, perhaps transposing it to different keys, playing it backward, or varying its tempo.

7) Practice from the End to the Beginning

This is a strategy from guitarist David Patterson. First, practice the last part of a piece, then the section before it, then before that, working your way back to the beginning. Beyond giving you a constant feeling of growing familiarity, this will help you find a sense of inevitability of the music and develop its overall narrative.

If you can’t play, perhaps due to health reasons or because you are away from your instrument, or because you have to be silent, there are still many other ways to practice. The content writers from paperhelp emphasize that mental practice—imagining that you are playing—is very beneficial. Also, analyze your music and develop your interpretation, noticing where the drama builds or considering phrasing options.

8) Use a Variety of Materials, Methodically and Randomly

Many types of pedagogical music books exist that will help you practice: songbooks, technique books, general methods, workouts, biographies, and more.

9) Use a Metronome or a Recording

Most of your practice time should require that you play in time. Record your play-along tracks; that’s more interesting than playing along with a click. But you can use any recording to practice your sense of timing and ensemble. An app might serve you as well as a physical metronome.

10) Practice towards Something

On your calendar, always have a performance, gig, recording, master class, or some other event, to help focus your priorities and give yourself goals. Then, at every practice session, beyond just generally developing your technique, make sure you are advancing towards mastering what is necessary for this event to be successful. It will help you focus your work and keep your practice efforts relevant. You should understand how everything you practice fits into the grander scheme of your musical life.

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