One of the best parts about being a musician is getting to discover more about our instrument and the pieces we are playing every day. Practicing sometimes has a negative connotation of something we “have to do.” This is due to a general misunderstanding of what practice really is. There are a few simple ways to approach daily practice that will inspire musicians and cultivate an environment for creativity and fun.
First, it is important to keep a routine that sets aside a specific time each day to spend with your instrument. Every day, we can expect and depend on certain activities occurring at the same time, such as waking up, mealtimes, and going to school. When we treat practice the same way, there is no question of “if” or “when” it will happen. Setting a clear routine provides stability and freedom to get creative with how you practice.
When approaching your practice time, it helps to keep a practice journal, so you can track what you practiced, for how long, and the discoveries you made. This way, you can avoid repeatedly figuring out a puzzle that you have already solved! If you get stuck on anything, you can include questions in your practice log so you can remember to ask your teacher or come back to it the next day.
Listening is crucial in and around the practice time. Listen to recordings of the pieces you are working on, with the goal of being able to sing the whole thing. If you can sing it, you can play it! Actively listening to your repertoire daily makes practicing it easier, quicker, and more fun because you won’t get stuck trying to figure out what the piece sounds like through trial and error while hunting for notes. This frees up your attention for new concepts and musical ideas presented in a piece.
A balanced practice session follows a few basic elements:
This includes various activities for exploring balanced posture and tonalization. When musicians work on tonalization, this means they are improving their overall sound quality. An example of this might be tuning, finding your instrument’s ringing tones, or scales and arpeggios. This is the time to explore the building blocks of playing including pitch, rhythm, and tone.
Etudes come in further down the road as short exercises that aim to piece together the building blocks from warmups with a specific focus on technique. These are excellent for learning to identify patterns that appear in music as well as targeting new musical concepts. Etudes often supplement the pieces you are learning. They can be viewed as the “weightlifting” for new techniques so that they are easy when they appear in current or future repertoire. For example, one etude might focus on training clean string crossing preparation in the right arm, while another will focus on slurring four notes in a bow and feature that throughout the entire etude.
In the beginning, this includes interval recognition, practicing identifying whether two notes are the same or different, and goes all the way up to sight reading short musical examples.
This element describes new or current pieces you are learning. This will look different day to day depending on where the piece is in the learning stage, but this part of your practice covers everything from note learning and technique previews to spot practice and piecing sections together with the goal of completing a full run-through.
Review is one of the most important aspects of practicing. This is where you get to apply new skills and concepts you are currently learning to pieces that are already in your fingers. For example, as you learn more about tone or phrasing, you can apply those new discoveries to pieces that are already comfortable in your fingers. This is where you develop your artistry, continually bringing familiar pieces up to a higher level than when you first learned them. This is also a great place to experiment with performance elements, imagining yourself on stage, and performing for friends and family.
Following this blueprint for practicing will help students enjoy the time spent with their instrument and progress quickly through small attainable goals in each category. With a clear routine and structure set for practice, musicians can have fun finding new ways to explore their instrument and experience music.
Tatum Hodgson and the StringTime Family