By Destin Smith
Over the years, I have heard a number of interesting sayings. For instance “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “A watched pot never boils”. One saying that has stuck with me goes like this: “How do you eat an elephant”.... do you give up?........ the answer is.....“ One bite at a time.” Before I go further into this blog, I want to clarify that I personally have never eaten an elephant, I do not plan to eat an elephant, nor do I condone the eating of elephants, but this saying is of course a metaphor. As you may have figured out by now, this saying is not taken literally but does have a different meaning.
In dealing with large problems in life, the best way to tackle the job is in small manageable steps. This is the same mentality that a musician should have when setting goals or in trying to master a new piece. I don’t know about you, but when I have to sit down and learn a new piece of challenging music, I can get quite overwhelmed at the task at hand. In fact, I have been asked to play drums for a Christmas concert this year and I have less than one month to learn 13 songs! The old Destin may have gotten very stressed at this endeavor but I have learned now that the best thing to do is break the task down.
One of the first things I would recommend is having a regular practice time that you and your family agrees on. I typically like to practice at the end of the day as a way to wind down and relieve some of the stress of the day. I do however have friends and students that like to practice first thing in the morning. This regularly scheduled practice time should be something realistic, in a place free of distraction, and a time that you and your family agree on.
The next tip I would suggest is giving yourself an organized practice routine starting with a warm up exercise and ending with a fun piece that you love to play. Make sure you discuss your practice time with your private teacher and seek their guidance. They will be able to give you insight on what things you may need to focus on more so than others. It is important to keep a lesson book that has notes from your private teacher that you can reference during the week.
The final step I would recommend is to break apart the assigned piece(s) into groups of measures that you work on individually and schedule them. For most people, the beginning of a song always sounds the most put together. Why? The reason is because a lot of musicians practice from top to bottom. While this is certainly a good strategy, I would not recommend this until you have worked your way through the whole piece. This is more of rehearsing rather than practicing. You should aim to have each section of a song to have an even number of practice minutes.
There are several ways that you can divide a piece of music. You can break the music down by counting the measures and dividing by the days or time you have to practice. You can break a piece of music down by rehearsal numbers (usually the measure numbers that are usually in a square or enclosed in a shape). Or you can break the music down by the different sections or phrases. Because music is sometimes repetitive you can eliminate extra practice time that may have been used on recurring phrases and measures in the piece of music you are working on. Again, make sure you speak with your private music teacher first on strategies of how to break down a piece of music.
One more tip...buy an elephant stuffed animal or figure and put it somewhere you can see it often to remind yourself that if you practice smart and efficiently, you can achieve some great musical feats in your lifetime. Happy practicing!