Monday, September 28, 2009

Effective vs Ineffective practice routines [for piano players]

"Perfect Practice Makes Perfect"
One of the most common things I hear when talking with other musicians is that, "I practice and practice, but I don't seem to be going anywhere..." This is the unfortunate case for many musicians. They spend hours and hours trying to get better only to realize that they aren't growing much at all. I myself have gone through that same thing and it can be very frustrating. I have since made a few modifications to my practice habits that have allowed me to see growth QUICKER with LESS practice time. After all there are only so many hours in the day and if you have a day job and kids you know that those hours can get filled up pretty quickly. It's no big secret but it will require you to break some old habits. The answer is NOT "Practice Makes Perfect", but "PERFECT Practice Makes Perfect".

Now you may be asking yourself what you can be doing more than you already are to get the most out of your practice time. Well let me describe two musicians to you so you can see the difference. Instead of using Musician A and Musician B, I am going to give them names. Musician A = Curtis and Musician B = Charlene.

Let's take a look at how Curtis practices:

Curtis sits down at the piano and starts to play some scales. He starts on the C Major Scale and works his way up chromatically (by Half Steps) to G. After he finishes the G Major scale, he starts to think of the song that he heard on the radio. He hums the melody and tries to remember the chords. He is able to pick some of them out but not all.
He then gets frustrated after 45min and starts working on some hot progressions that a friend taught him. He spends another 45min working out these progressions and trying to see where else he can take them. After he gets bored with that, he then starts working on a song he has been writing for 3 years, but just never got around to finishing. This lasts for about 1 hour. He then doodles on the piano for an hour and calls it a night. Curtis' total practice time is 3.5 hours.

Now let's take a look at Charlene:

Charlene sits down at the piano with her practice journal and metronome in hand. She opens the journal and looks to see if there is anything left over from her previous practice session that she needs to work on. There is nothing. So she writes the current date in her journal signifying the start of this session. She then writes "Major Scales around the Circle of Fourths" and sets her metronome at 80 bpm (Beats per Minute). She then proceeds to practice her major scales around the Circle of Fourths first at normal time and again at double time. When she's done, she writes down the time it took her to complete the scales and the tempo which was 5min. Now that she is warmed up, she writes in her journal "Progression Exercises". With the metronome still set to 80 bpm, she works though Major 2-5-1, Minor 2-5-1, 1-4, 1-6-2-5-1, 6-2-5-1, 3-6-2-5-1, and 7-3-6-2-5-1 progressions ALL around the Circle of Fourths. She then writes in her journal 20 min. She also makes a note that she was having some problems with Minor 2-5-1 progressions. She will ask someone about that later. Now that she has the fundamentals out of the way, she pulls out her choir book. (Charlene plays for the church choir) She writes in her journal "Practice choir song (Awesome God) for Sunday". She puts the CD into the CD player and listens to it one time all the way through. While she is listening, she identifies the key and any key changes that may occur in the song. She then sets it back to the beginning and plays again and begins learning the song. When she is done, she writes 35 min. She reflects on the practice and feels good about it. She knows she will need to work on the song more, but she has 6 more days until Sunday. She feels that she will be ready by Wednesday, but right now she has to get dinner ready for the kids. Charlene's total practice time is 1 hour.

So we have seen two individuals and how they both practice. Which one do you think would get the most out of their practice time? Charlene is very focused in her practice time. She has a journal and is able to review what she did in her last practice session so she knows not to spend too much time on it in the current session. Curtis on the other hand, lacks focus in his practice session and ends up all over the place. He doesn't really identify any areas that he needs to work on. He just kind of goes with whatever.

It is very important to be extremely focused in your practice time. You should always have these aspects included:

Warm-ups Scales or Finger exercises

Fundamentals Scales and Progressions (Also reading, even if it's at a basic level)

Ear Training Playing a song by ear, learning intervals, chord qualities (Major vs Minor)

Extra stuff Learning a song, Improvisation

Having these elements will allow you to get the most out of your time so that you can achieve great results quicker. Since I started doing this, I have noticed a tremendous increase in my ability to play. Remember that FOCUS and CONSISTENCY is the key to getting where you want musically. Try it and let me know your results. Always remember "PERFECT Practice Makes Perfect".

Here's some helpful site to help you perfect your gift [Basics and fundamentals of playing piano] [How to play worship progressions/songs] [Interactive Musician Community...membership is free]

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