5 Ways to Practice Smarter

1. Shoot for frequency 

Practicing frequently is more effective than practicing for a long time. Say a student practices 60 minutes per week (hopefully it is more!), all in one focused hour. That would be a great practice session. However, over the next six days chances are that he will forget a lot of what he did. Therefore, the beginning of the next session is spent trying to remember what was practiced previously.  

If that same student practices for 10 minutes, six days per week with one day off, he’s not likely to forget what he worked on. Every session will pick up right where the last one left off. With this approach, every minute can be spent moving forward without time spent backtracking in order to blow the dust off. Now imagine the progress that could be made if each session is 20, 30 or even 60 minutes!

2.  Find a consistent time to practice.  

After reading #1, you might be asking yourself how to fit in a practice session every day. The key is to find a time that works, and stick to it. Think about brushing your teeth. If you didn’t do it when you wake up and before bed, would you remember to do it twice a day during random times? Probably not. Try to practice before or after something that you do every day. For example:

  • As soon as you wake up
  • After breakfast

  • As soon as you get home from school/work

  • Before dinner

  • After dinner

  • Before bed

    Go with whatever time works for you. Just remember to be consistent!

3.  Stick to a routine

If you are taking lessons, hopefully your teacher has a variety of activities that he/she asks of you. Hopefully the lesson itself has some routine to it. Try to structure your practice sessions in the same way.  Here is an example:

  • Warm up with a fun, easy song

  • Play through some drills, exercises and/or scales

  • Do some sight reading

  • Work on your latest song/piece

  • Play along with a recording or video

This is one of the only ways to make sure all of these things get done. If you have trouble fitting it all in, try splitting the activities up so you can do everything over the course of two practice sessions. For example, on day one play scales, do some sight reading, and work on your latest song. On day two do the drills and scales, and play along with a recording.

4.  Practice the hard parts

Playing a song that you are good at can be very satisfying, but it doesn’t necessarily make you any better. Playing a song or passage that you previously couldn’t play is an obvious sign of progress.

Start slow. Isolate the two, three, or four notes that keep tripping you up. When you get that passage, go back to the beginning of the phrase or song, and try to work it in. If you’re still playing wrong notes, or slowing down, go back and drill that section again.  

A common example of this is when a beginner plays Jingle Bells. The first two measures are all played on one pitch, “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells.” It’s the “Jingle all the way” part that trips up the beginner. The melody consists of leaps (notes that are far away from each other) and it can be tricky to play. Many beginners will start at the beginning of the song, make a mistake at the hard part, and go back to the beginning of the song. Then they try again, and still make a mistake when the get to “Jingle all the way.” If this is repeated over and over, the student is spending most of her time playing the first two measures, which they already can play, essentially wasting her time. The proper thing to do is to play “Jingle all the way” over and over until that part is just as comfortable as the beginning.

5.  Make practicing fun

Create a cool practice space for yourself. Treat yourself with your favorite snack or beverage after a good session. Record yourself and show a friend. Wear a funny hat - whatever makes you happy! The more fun you can make practicing, the more likely you are to do it!