Practice – if you’re a working musician, it’s part of your life. But some of us feel like we can’t really talk about it – we ask ourselves ‘what if everyone else is doing more than me?’ or worse, believe that having to do more practise makes us a worse musician. Ever heard the phrase ‘practise is cheating’? I know I have. Musicians are often a bit cagey about how much they’re doing, which can lead people to feel almost as if it’s a taboo subject – let’s try and end that. End the stigma, people!
I’d like to share a few practise tips that I’ve learned over the years. I hope you find them helpful.
One of the biggest ways to increase the quality of your practise is to reduce distractions in your immediate surroundings. I may have mentioned the Pomodoro technique on this blog before but basically, it’s the idea of concentrating without distractions for twenty-five minutes, followed by a five minute break. This is repeated four times so you have four periods of totally focussed work in two hours. You wouldn’t believe how much you can get done in twenty-five minutes just by removing distractions.
The main distraction in most of our lives is our phone, and yet it sits there next to us, notifying us of things that don’t matter right now – oh hi Instagram! – so what I try to do is put it on Do Not Disturb, put a timer on for twenty-five minutes, and then put the phone out of reach.
In my opinion, twenty-five minutes is long enough to practise one, maybe two pieces. If you are reeling through more than that it might be time to ask yourself if you are practising or just merely playing pieces through, mistakes and all… So try and have everything you need to work on for the next couple of months in a pile, and work through it slowly in twenty-five minute chunks. This works much better than ‘I’ll work on it until it’s better/perfect/fluent’ – this is not a quantifiable goal and you’ll end up unsatisfied. Instead, work for your allotted time, say ‘well done’ to yourself for working hard and without getting distracted, and pick up where you left off next time.
Practice is a bit like exercise, it can be hard to get the motivation to start, because it is hard work (if you’re doing it right). However, it’s worth remembering that the only practice you’ll regret is the one you skipped. Trust me, I’ve been down that road many times…