5 Tips to Make the Most of Your Practice Time
We’ve all had those days or weeks when it feels like you have absolutely no time to practice. Maybe you have a lot of school work, sports commitments, work hours, or social events that are taking time away from practicing your instrument. We also know that as we get older, life tends to get busier with each passing year. So how can you be a successful student at school, and still be successful in all of your after-school commitments that are so important for building a strong resume?
Here’s my one-word answer for you: efficiency. Webster’s dictionary defines being efficient as “capable of producing desired results with little or no waste of time.” When you have little to no time to practice, you have to make every second count. You have to focus your attention on what needs the most work so that you can progress in your ability each time that you practice. I will never forget how busy and worn out I felt when I was pursuing my music education degree. There literally wasn’t enough time in the day to get everything done and still get a reasonable night’s sleep. There were days when I could only practice for 5 minutes, so I knew I had to make sure those were the most efficient 5 minutes possible!
We all know that the more we do something, the better we get at it. It’s a simple rule but it is so very true. I have told students of mine many times that it is better to practice every day of the week for 10 minutes a day than it is to practice 1 day a week for hours. Practicing this way also promotes better technique as you aren’t over-doing it and risking injury.
If you are a music student that can completely relate to the feeling of not having enough time to practice OR if you have enough time to practice but want to make it more efficient, follow these 5 tips to make the most out of your practice time:
1.) Begin your practice session by identifying and working on the section(s) of your music that is giving you the most trouble. Don’t start at the very beginning of the song and play or sing all the way until the end. This will waste precious time working on parts that you already have down. When you are strapped for time, begin with the sections that need the most work. Once you have focused on these sections, then you can play or sing your song from beginning to end.
2.) Once you have identified your section, break it down into smaller parts. When you are really struggling, sometimes it is helpful to work on a measure at a time instead of playing or singing through a whole system.
3.) Make helpful notes and reminders for yourself on your sheet music. This is a big one! There is no shame in marking up your music with notes. In fact, the more notes the better if it helps you perform your music accurately and expressively. Notes will save you loads of time.
4.) Incorporate all aspects of the music at once. Especially when you are really low on time, include all musical markings at once so that they are really ingrained in your playing and you won’t need to go back and incorporate them later. For example, when you are practicing a phrase of music, don’t limit your focus on playing only the correct notes and rhythm, but see if you can add the correct dynamics and/or articulations right away. The sooner that you incorporate these markings, the quicker they will become a habit when you are playing.
5.) Make practicing with the good technique a PRIORITY! When we are stressed, it is inevitable that we are going to tense up physically and mentally. The good news is that music has been proven to relieve stress so it is actually beneficial to your health to practice! (Parents feel free to remind your children of this fact! 😊) Before you begin your practice, take a deep breath in and out, and at that moment try to let go of all of the tension in your body (relax your neck, shoulders, wrists, hips, back, legs, etc.). The goal is to keep this feeling of looseness and freedom to move as needed during your entire practice session-be it for 5 minutes or 30 minutes.
Follow these 5 tips and I guarantee that you will be on your way to making the most of any practice time you have!