Six Techniques for Perfect Practice

Practice is something that all instrumentalists have to face.  What makes good practice?  Here is Tampa Bay Music Academy’s blog post describing techniques for perfect practice.  It is written by Susan McClure and is re-posted here with permission for our readership.  To view it in its original context, please click here.

Remember the old saying “practice makes perfect”? Well, forget it. You can practice the same song for five hours, but if you’re practicing it incorrectly, all you’ll get for your trouble is a very strongly ingrained mistake.

When I was a budding young pianist, I had a teacher who cemented this concept in my brain. I can still remember her leaning forward in her chair, eyes drilling into my soul saying “Practice makes permanent!” Mrs. Roschi, if you are reading this, I got it! Another way of saying this is “Perfect practice makes perfect.” So how can you set yourself up for practice sessions that really make a difference?

  • Set a Goal

Goals should be specific and manageable. “Practice until it’s right” may not be the best goal, especially for younger students. A manageable goal for one practice session might be “Practice the first line at half speed until you master the sixteenth note run.” Goals help students monitor their progress, alleviate frustration, and keep the end in sight.

  • Practice at the Right Time

Students should concentrate their practice time when they are physically and mentally able to engage. I always encourage parents to give their children a break after school before requiring them to sit down and practice. After sitting at a desk all day, a little mental and physical down time can be the key to creating a more effective practice session later on.

  • Slow Down

Slow practice is one of the most important techniques students can use to master difficult passages. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the least-used techniques. Slow practice enables you to build accurate muscle memory in your fingers, decreasing the likelihood of mistakes later on. If you practice accurately every time, your fingers will take over even when your brain freezes with stage fright.

  • Use a Metronome

Another little-used tool, the metronome is essential for playing the right notes at the right time. No hesitating over difficult passages! Slow the metronome down until you can play the song accurately in perfect time. Then increase it one or two clicks at a time as you build up to the desired tempo.

  • Engage Your Brain

Thirty minutes of practice with acute mental focus can accomplish more than three hours of mindless repetition. Don’t settle for quantity alone. Quantity without quality will simply ingrain bad habits.

  • Stop When You Need To

When you begin to get tired or frustrated, it’s time to take a break. Get up and stretch, have a snack, or do something else for a while. Frustrated practice accomplishes nothing.

Young students will need their parents’ help in order to implement some of these techniques. They need specific guidelines, schedules, and practice goals to be set for them. As the student matures in both age and ability, he can begin to plan and execute practice sessions on his own.

There is nothing more satisfying than mastering a piece that at first reading seemed impossible. By planning for effective practice, you can accomplish more in less time while also setting yourself up for future success. Practice does, indeed, make permanent.

About Richard Tracy

I have been playing the violin for about 20 years - in spite of missing the index finger of my left hand.
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