By Max Walker
Everyone knows that to gain proficiency in anything, one must practice diligently. This is where we often hear the saying “if you devote ten thousand hours to your craft, you will become a master”. However, while practice is necessary to master any skill, it is not quite as simple as doing anything related to your craft for a vast amount of time. To truly master something, you must not only practice, you must practice right. While there are a multitude of angles for looking at smart practice, I will be covering several categories that have helped shape my own practice routines. These three ‘pillars’ of practice are: consistency, focus, and variety. I hope that this outline might shed some light on mapping out a daily routine, and maintaining it.
To truly engrain anything into your mind, you have to think about it often. It has to be part of your daily routine, like going to school or brushing your teeth. The same is true with practicing your instrument. Many new musicians make the mistake of attributing a long practice session one day to being just as useful as a consistent short routine spread out across several. Much like food and sleep, practicing your instrument must be done consistently to truly serve its purpose. New musicians should be careful to know their limits, and set a length for their daily routine accordingly.
Any experienced musician can recall a time when they where overwhelmed by the amount of material that they had to learn. It is all too easy to practice a different idea every day and end up not internalizing anything. Much like a history project, practice is much easier when focused on one aspect at a time. I have translated this into my practicing by splitting my time into chunks for different ideas. An example of this might be to practice sight-reading for 10 minutes, practice arpeggios for 10 minutes, and then practice your piece for a final 10 minutes. It is also helpful to set goals for yourself. An example of this is to play a C major arpeggio correctly four times in a row before moving on.
If you spend all of your time working on sight-reading, you may not have the technical skill to play what is written on the page. In contrast, all the technique in the world is useless if you can’t decipher your written music. A master musician has looked at their instrument and musicianship from countless angles, and they continue to do so each day. It can be helpful to break different concepts up throughout your practice week. For example, I might practice a solo transcription on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but then swap that slot for a scale exercise on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The best way to combat any neglect in ones musicianship is to honestly evaluate oneself at least once a month. When I was in college, I realized that I had neglected to truly hone my skills as a sight-reader. Since then, I have worked to better balance sight-reading into my practice routine, and it has left me a better rounded musician.
What has helped you practice smarter? Tell us in the comments!