What are the Best Practice strategies for your Instrument?
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
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.
Practicing an instrument can be quite tiresome at times and may feel like you are going through the motions. I'm sure at one point everyone has sat down with their instrument, played through some pieces, fiddled around a bit, and then packed up. Does this found familiar? Through my years at University, I have been introduced to or experimented with different practice strategies to help get me through a whole lot of repertoire for solo, ensemble, and orchestra pieces on the guitar. With such a busy schedule my practice has not necessarily needed to be 4 hours a day instead, efficiency was the key. So how do you practice efficiently whether you are on a tight schedule or not? I will tell you a few practice strategies that have worked well for me in the past which I still use at times.
I learned of this rule from my teacher Dr. Kim Burwell at the University of New South Wales which essentially means that anything worth practicing is worth practicing for 15 minutes. This may include your warm-ups, working on pieces, improvisation, intonation (depending on your instrument), etc...
Once the 15 minutes were up it was then for you to determine whether you would spend another 15 minutes on your task or move onto something else. This meant that you had more of an idea of what our timeline was looking like. For example, if you had 1 hour to practice and you needed to work on specific tasks, you could take 2 important sections and work on them for 30 minutes each. You get the idea.
If you have a lot of repertoire, a good way to keep up with the workload is to write down all the pieces you are working on and next to each piece write down a progress bar (essentially 0-100% completion). This helps you track what pieces need most work and helps avoid overlooking some pieces. You can also colour code to your liking, for example, red means that the piece needs a lot of work, yellow is a moderate amount of work, blue means that it just needs some touching up, and green means that you just need to run the piece to keep in fresh. This gives a clear overview of what pieces need the most work at a quick glance.
Practice time Schedule
This one I learned from 'ThatViolaKid' (you can check him out on YouTube) where you use a practice diary and each day write down what you want to practice though you use symbols to refer to how much time you will spend on each assigned task. For example, a triangle may mean 15 minutes and a square 30 minutes. You can then assign a warm-up for 30 minutes and then a section of a piece to either a triangle and another section with another triangle or simply a square. This helps track how much practice you are doing per day. The key here is to give yourself a plan to work with and push yourself to work efficiently in the time you have given yourself.
These practice strategies are not the only ones out there and they of course should be rotated and used in conjunction with other practice strategies. The key thing to take in when using these or any other practice strategies is to go into your practice with a plan, having a clear understanding of what needs to be worked on and how you want to work on it. I will be writing another blog on efficient ways to practice which will be very useful in knowing how to take full advantage of the strategies above.