Efficient Ways of Practicing
Updated: May 26, 2020
My name is Manuel Diewald and I am a Sydney based guitar teacher in West Pennant Hills who is in his final year at the University of New South Wales studying music with a stream in Pedagogy.
In my last blog I talked about practice strategies that can help with progression on your instrument and even get you through a plateau. However, practice strategies are not very effective if you can’t find an efficient way to practice as they may not be used to their full potential and yield slow progress. So, what do I mean about efficient practice?
Efficient practice comes down to planning and having a clear idea of what needs to be worked on before sitting down with your instrument. Spending your time wisely is important especially if you can’t spend hours a day practicing. Either way, efficiency is key!
Knowing what you need to practice is important in being efficient with your time no matter how much you can spare. This means that you are focused on what needs to be done and can follow a structure. It is important to understand what sections of a piece or specific techniques need to be worked on so that you can either skip directly to that section or focus on a task without mucking around.
From Beginning to End
A common mistake with beginners (which I have also done) is to play each piece from beginning to end without stopping to fix up any errors. If there were 4 specific bars at the end of the piece and you always start from the beginning, that is a lot of time spent playing, just to get to the bit that needs practicing. Knowing where those specific sections are will save time and allow for more repetition where it is needed. Another problem with this is when playing through and not stopping for errors, you are effectively ingraining those errors into your muscle’s memory. Playing through a piece whether the technique is ‘good or ‘bad’ will strengthen that technique and therefore if the technique is ‘bad’ then it is much more difficult to undo or relearn it properly. Next time you practice a piece, pick a random bar, and see if you can start from that section with ease.
Tempo plays a large role towards efficient practice as I have found that many people try to play too fast in the early stages of learning a piece/scales etc. This can have a negative effect for many reasons.
When playing too fast (in the early stages) it’s hard for our brain to keep up with all the subtle details that need to be attended to such as notes (accidentals in many cases), rhythm, fingering (Left and Right hand), which position on the fretboard to play on (string instruments), dynamics etc. It is very easy to make mistakes and therefore learn those mistakes through repetition. It is also possible to be unaware of what you are doing, and each time use a different fingering or play different dynamics, etc. Although playing slowly is not always a good strategy, in the early stages it is important to do so that you learn all the subtle details that are required of the music. This way when you speed up, all those details will be easier to incorporate into the piece.
Take a Break
Another way to practice efficiently can be by breaking up your practice sessions into groups of 30 minutes or 1 hour to maximise concentration as sitting down for too long may cause a loss of focus. This is when bad techniques can start creeping in. Even within these 30 minutes or 1-hour slots you can take short 2-minute breaks (or however long you need, though the point is to keep them short) just to keep the mind focused. I would suggest doing something completely different from music. Maybe have a quick walk around the house, go outside for some fresh hair, grab a drink of water, etc. Even having a stretch can be very helpful as standing or sitting down for too long can be tiring on our muscles.
The key thing to take away from this blog is that efficiency is key which means planning ahead and creating a structure to your practice session so that you have a clear idea of what you will work on and how you will achieve it. Being prepared and focused will make a big difference in the way you practice. Practicing is not just a physical game but a mental one too!