Practicing is a vital part of music making. Much like with sports, rehearsing builds muscle memory, and with more confidence we build more freedom. Not all practice habits are good habits, however. With desire to do better each time, we tend to overcompensate and build bad habits, which are incredibly hard to unlearn. This is why it is very important to always put in some failsafes as we spend hours with our instrument or voice.
Rule No. 1: When to practice?
Generally speaking, practicing means repeatedly using muscle work. When the body is well-rested and the muscles feel rejuvenated, it is easier to control the movements repeatedly for long periods of time. Musicians, specifically those with day jobs, resort to music in the evening hours for some soul-searching time and apply themselves to the instrument when tired. Yes, it feels good at the time, chasing that nighttime romance, but this kind of music making is better suited for a casual impromptu session than real practice. So practice in the earlier hours, and jam in the evening!
Rule No. 2: How long to practice?
It is often that students of music compete among themselves in the number of hours put into a daily practice session. 5 hours, 6 hours, even 7 hours of practice time is a common daily marathon assumed by those really ambitious individuals. Such hours are taxing on the body. As a rule of thumb, it is good to avoid sitting in the same practice position for more than 45 minutes at a time. It is thus advisable to stand up, stretch, walk around every now and then to ensure that those long practice sessions will yield better results and keep the body in check for a long time. How many hours are actually needed to practice, however? While there is no minimum (as long as the practice session is a focused one!), more than 3 hours a day generally only results in ineffective repetition.
Surrounding noise builds over-saturation and doesn’t let the music flow seamlessly.
Rule No. 3: Where to practice?
Kids running around, yelling left and right, and you sitting in the middle of it all trying to find a quiet moment to play your instrument. Is this really the best set up? Too much surrounding noise builds over-saturation and doesn’t let the music flow seamlessly. Best practice routines, while sometimes very isolating, are in spaces with plenty of solitude and quiet. Silence is a part of music, and it’s best when music emerges from this quiet, allowing us to fully concentrate on the beautiful sounds of our playing. So, find a dedicated room with no distractions, or a time of day when you can focus solely on the music. That will not only positively effect the outcome of your session, but also enable them to be shorter than longer for the same result!
Rule No. 4: What to practice?
How much technique? How many songs? How fast? How slow? These are all the standard questions that us musicians always ask. And they are all valid questions! While there is no magic potion in terms of what gives you most success, it is usually a note of good practice to keep our playing chops in check. This means that at least a little bit of technique practice in the form of a warm-up routine or steady 30-60 min makes sure that we are in the best possible shape to execute our music. No practice should however be dedicated only to technique. The beautiful sounds of harmony and melody give satisfaction that makes us want to come back over and over again, so make sure you always dedicate a significant portion of the time to pieces you enjoy playing. If you are one of those musicians, a bit of time for improvisation is also an added value.
Rule No. 5: What’s the takeaway?
There’s many guidelines out there as to how and what to practice. Books have been written, and discussions held. The most important thing is always that it does come down to us putting in the work to yield the desired result. Without practice, there’s no progress, and without progress we don’t get our instrument to respond to our playing the way we would want it. So, stop reading this article, turn on that metronome and go practice! 🙂