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Top Practice Tips

1. Make it a Habit

* When creating new habits it's best to work on one at a time. It can be tempting to try and start fresh and create lots of new habits at the same time, but new habits take discipline, try to create too many at once and you will soon burn out.

* Focus on simply starting a practice session 6 days out of 7, it doesn't matter how long you practice for, or what you do, the main thing is to build that habit and get started.

* Schedule yourself first: this particularly applies to adults, if you don't put yourself and your practice time first, there's a danger it won't happen. It's important to take time for yourself and look after your own mental health so that you are fired up and ready to look after your family. If your children get used to seeing you practice, it will make them proud of you and might inspire them to start their own hobby.

* Create a schedule: Decide when you are going to practice and let other members of your family know ahead of time. Ensure young children are entertained and well fed and ignore any household jobs that catch your eye. This is your time, claim it and enjoy it.

* Have a reward: Each time you practice you need to have a reward. Over time it might be that practising becomes it's own reward. Remember, we "play" music, if you don't feel like taking on that tricky piece today - just play. Once you've started playing, you might find yourself heading back to those tricky few bars or that piece your teacher is expecting to hear at your next lesson. Until the habit is established a reward for children might be a small amount of pocket money each time, for adults it could be a bar of chocolate or a small glass or wine, or simply 5 minutes peace and quiet after you've finished.

* Make a chart: There is something very powerful about building up a collection of ticks or stickers in a chart, it shows you how well you've done and encourages you to keep going.


2. Have everything set up

* This is a big one - Have a dedicated practice space in your house. If you have to clear a table and make space to plug in a keyboard and hunt around the house for some headphones these are all barriers to you being able to practice. If at all possible, have everything you need ready so that you can practice at the drop of a hat whenever you feel like it. Play a few scales while you wait for the kettle to boil, play that tricky couple of bars 10 times over during the adverts whilst watching TV. Practice doesn't have to be a sold half an hour every day, although this is useful, lots of little sessions can be just as handy. This approach is especially good for those beginning Clarinet or Saxophone as it takes time to build up your lip muscles.

* Have your instrument set up and ready, music stand set up, music open at the right page, practice diary and pencil to hand.


3. Use a practice diary

* As soon as you can after your lesson, write detailed notes about what your teacher told you and decide what you want to achieve before your next lesson.

* At the end of each practice session, decide what you want to work on in the next session.

* Plan your practice and practice your plan. If you need help with this ask your teacher. All too often your teacher will tell you to practice, but a lot of the time, they don't explicitly set out how to practice. If you ask, they will be delighted that you are showing initiative and will be more than happy to explain.

* Write down any questions you might have for your teacher, ready for the next lesson.


4. Record yourself playing

* This is a really useful way to give yourself feedback on your playing. Without even trying you will notice things about your playing when you watch yourself back that you were not aware of whilst you were playing.

* Check your posture. Are you sitting/standing tall? Do you look relaxed? Are you stiff? Do you give away where the difficult parts are with your body language? Do you have "expressive shoulders"? It is good to move whilst you are playing, but if this looks out of place or is off-putting , it's an indication that something is wrong.

* Check your timing and pulse. If your pulse is unsteady, for example, you slow down at harder sections, then you know where you need to put in more focused practice. You can then either play the whole piece more slowly or use a metronome to keep the beat steady. Practising with a metronome is a skill, if you find the metronome off putting, ask your teacher to help - again they will be more than happy to help you to learn this skill.

* Just the act of recording yourself puts you under a small amount of stress and helps you to practice performance skills. Many people don't realise that being nervous is a good thing. It means you care about your performance and your raised heart rate helps you to play at your best. There is no way to "cure" nerves, and many performers wouldn't want to, the more times you experience nerves the better you become at dealing with them. Being nervous before a performance is one of the things that makes you feel high afterwards. The high of performing if one of the most pure natural highs there is - enjoy it.

* Your recording gives you evidence that you were "better at home". When nerves hit in your lesson, you can play the recording back if you want to. However, as above, nerves are a good thing.


5. Create a performance opportunity

* Play something for your family at the end of mealtime.

* Arrange to go and see relatives, or set up a zoom meeting and play for them.

* School children can take their instrument to school for show and tell.

* Having a small event to practice for, can make practising become a much bigger priority and will help you to become more focused.


6. Finish on a high

* It is all too easy to practice until we feel worn out. Our brains seem to stop working and we know we've had enough. At this point, it is the right decision to stop practising. However, consider going back and playing something easy before you do. You want to have a positive memory of your practice time. Allow yourself to have some fun at the end of your practice session. Remember to "play" - this is why we learn an instrument in the first place, but it can be easy to forget. If you find yourself wondering whether or not to continue practising, then play something for fun and quit while you're ahead. It is very damaging to finish every practice session with failure. By all means, make a note of what your "failure" is, so that you can carry on where you left off. But if you finish on a high and you'll always look forward to your next practice session.

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©2019 by Marie-Claire Warren

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