One of the most frequently asked question I get from students is how to structure a practice routine and/or maximise the effectiveness of their practice time. Here are some practice tips that have worked well for me and many of my students.
1. Consistency – This is probably one of the most effective strategies you can employ for consistent long term improvement. Try to practice, every day, every other day or every couple of days for best results.
2. Duration – In the beginning try to avoid practicing for excessively long periods of time. The goal isn’t necessarily to practice for eight hours a day. Although this will yield results, for most of us it’s unrealistic and unsustainable. Just like any skill, learning how to learn (meta learning) takes time. Some very evolved players practice for long periods but they are the exceptions to the rule. In most cases they have spend years honing their learning skills and are able to stay laser focus for longer periods of time.
3. Focus – Try to increase you level focus in each session and only practice things you can’t play. As soon as you get distracted stop and take a break. This will help develop your ability to focus and stay on task.
4. Patience – Getting good at anything takes time. Be satisfied with getting even a little piece of the puzzle in each session. Viewing improvement over time (days/weeks/months/years) requires patience. This combined with plenty of consistent practice will really increase your rate of improvement. Remember, it’s not a race! Enjoy the journey.
5. Goals – Break your goals into small bit-sized chunks that are more easily digestible. The duration and frequency of your practice will determine how many things you works on at any one time. To avoid overwhelm try working on only one or two things at a time.
6. Have a break… – It’s common knowledge that we humans have limited attention spans. With our almost obsessive desire for the advancing smart phone technology and the ease of access to the internet fueling a constant hunger for instant gratification, this seems to be getting worse.
Taking regular breaks allows our brains to unconsciously process the information needed to establish new techniques, ideas and concepts. These breaks also limit our exposure to frustration, one of the biggest killers of enthusiasm needed for our repetitious practice.
7. Go Slow – One of the most important lessons I learnt from the late, great Bob Armstrong was this:
Slow Practice: Fast Progress,
Fast Practice: Slow Progress.
Slowly repeating physical movements or motions ‘deepens the groove’ and can help you reach a higher level of physical consistency. This will allow you to explore other variables such as a variety of dynamics and tempos to aid progression with an idea or concept.
8. Keeping a Practice Log – It’s a good idea to gauge your practice to record your progress. Some elements of technique practice can easily be measured in terms of the tempo that you can cleanly execute certain exercises whether it’s slow or fast. Keeping a practice diary can help keep a track of this and help you to see the distance traveled helping you to maintain momentum in your practice.
9. Record Yourself – With the advancements in technology in recent years it has never been easier (or cheaper!) to recording yourself. Whether this is audio or video, it can be an excellent way of getting almost instantaneous feedback on your practice. Most smartphones have audio and video recording capabilities allow you to easily assess your accuracy, feel, tempo, dynamics and other nuances by listening back to your performances and practice sessions. This can be a sobering experience in the beginning but an invaluable learning tool for maintaining progression in your long term development.
10. Get a second opinion – Get some lessons off somebody more experienced than yourself. This can be the quickest way of learning from the mistakes of other. Another of my teachers, Trevor Benham a professional drummer from Oxford used to say: “You can learn something for everyone, even if it’s how not to do it!”.