The semester is about to begin but Fall weather has yet to arrive! Hopefully some cooler weather will come for the labor day weekend and…
How to practice a musical instrument effectively and efficiently
Later this year, in December 2020, I will have another larger online concert for all my students who would like to participate. Of course everyone will want to play or sing at their best, and of course this takes practice. However your performance will depend not on how much practice you do, but what kind of practice.
There are two ways that students can practice. The first way is when you practice on “auto-pilot”, just repeating your piece over and over until it eventually sounds right. You start playing and all goes well until something sounds not right, so you stop and play that part over and over until it gets better. This kind of practice is super inefficient and worse, you are practicing stopping to correct yourself once you have started to play your piece. Guess what? When you want to play for an audience you will automatically stop to correct errors! So in the end this kind of practice leads to lack of confidence and nervousness. It is also very boring to practice this way.
What you need to do is practice deliberately and mindfully. I am sure everyone knows this term “mindfully”. We get told all the time to be mindful and stay in the present, not dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Deliberate practice involves identifying where you are hesitating or consistently playing erroneously, and looking closely at the section or note or phrase. (My experience is that it is almost always that the fingering needs to be adjusted, but I also experience a lack of identifying certain notes in relation to others around them, which means I need to pay extra attention to letting my muscle memory learn these relationships).
I have been reading the work of Noa Kageyama on his website: https://bulletproofmusician.com/. By “bulletproof” he means able to play your selected piece from beginning to end correctly and in a relaxed manner.
Here is his model for deliberate practice:
Deliberate practice “problem-solving” model
1. Define the goal (What do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)
2. Go for it
3. Analyze the result (Did I achieve my goal? If not, what is the problem? What did you do that made the note/phrase sound like it did?) Try recording!
4. Identify potential solutions (What adjustments can I make to make the note/phrase sound more like I want?)
5. Test potential solutions (What adjustments seem to work best?)
6. Implement the best solution (Make those tweaks permanent – i.e. mindful repetition) Record again!
7. Monitor implementation (Are these adjustments continuing to get me the results I want? Or do they need to be refined? If they seem to work, write down your new insights in a notebook so you don’t forget and have to rediscover them tomorrow)
This is hard work! I know because I have done lots of inefficient practice in my many years of practicing; at the Conservatorium in Sydney Australia I was required to practice 6 hours a day minimum. I did not know about deliberate practice and as Noa says, I would have achieved the same or better results in half that time.
It takes practice (ha!) to practice deliberately – how about you try it out?
(I will attach a pdf with more details from Noa)