I have been thinking a lot about practising recently, and I have just finished writing some thoughts about practice and progress. I think that as teachers and musicians, this is an area that we don’t always discuss enough – we can by guilty of just saying “go and practise!”, without always explaining HOW to practise. Also, it is possible that we take for granted that parents of children understand how to practicewhen perhaps they are a little in the dark. I hope this is useful:
HOW TO PRACTISE/ MY THOUGHTS ON PROGRESS AND PRACTISING
- Lots of short practice sessions during the week are better than one or two longer ones.
- Try to schedule regular practice times to make sure it happens! Younger children benefit from a parent sitting with them whilst they practise – even if that parent is not a musician themselves. It is quite unreasonable to expect young children to effectively practise on their own, and ideally a parent or other adult should take an active part in it.
- Playing a piece through is NOT “practising” – “practice” means selecting small sections of a piece and repeating them until you can do them. Next, try adding a couple of sections together. Maybe end your practice session by playing the piece through and see what still goes wrong. The places where you were still unhappy with the result are the sections you should BEGIN your next practice session. Don’t always start your practice at the beginning of a piece. DO try out different ways of practising a passage – for example, playing even notes in different rhythmic patterns or piano broken chord passages as blocked chords – many of these practising techniques are tried and tested, so if your teacher suggests them, give them a try.
- Learning to play an instrument takes a long time – even though you have practised a piece, if it still goes wrong, it is usually because you have not yet practised it enough!
- Aim never to play a wrong note when doing slow practice – if you think about it, every time you play something wrong you are practising your mistakes, and this can take a lot of un-doing.
- Listen to every sound you make and assess it.
- Slow and correct is ALWAYS better than fast and wrong.
- Accept that you are in it for the long haul – often adult students in particular get frustrated at how long it can take to be able to play a piece. Remember that when you hear that perfect professional performance that that performer has been practising effectively for many hours a day for many years.
- Comparing yours or your child’s progress with others’ is not helpful – progress rate depends on many factors, especially on the effectiveness of practice undertaken. Often, the tortoise over-takes the hare. Effective, regular practice is more important than “talent”.
- The most important tip for technique is to relax. Often older students are so afraid of making mistakes that they tense up – this is why what “worked” at home doesn’t “work” in a lesson. Music always comes more easily when we are relaxed. Remember that your teacher has heard some awful sounds over the years (!) and realises that you are going to make mistakes. Embrace mistakes as an opportunity to learn, rather than as a failure – and don’t apologise for them!
- Graded exams are a great way to feel you are progressing, but are not really what it is all about. If all people do is take one grade after another with no development in between, then it is possible they will have all the certificates, but not be able to sight read, listen and assess with confidence and truly have the ability to learn new pieces – they will not be fully developed as musicians and will not get maximum enjoyment from their skill. Grade 8 is only the end of the beginning and you are not a master musician when you have achieved it. Grade 1 Piano is a lot harder than “beginner” standard and is often the hardest exam to get up to standard for. It generally takes a lot longer to get to Grade 1 Piano than Grade 1 on other instruments.
- Often, the best practice you do will be immediately after or soon after (no more than a day after) your lesson – when everything from the lesson is fresh in your mind.
I hope that helps! Anne