Now we are all back to lessons and mostly on schedule, I want to remind students and parents of young ones about practicing your instrument.  The logic is inescapable – if you practice you will improve your skills, but it is actually a very complex process.

The  most nebulous aspect is motivation.  That is partly my job, to find what makes a student want to practice; maybe it is an extra special piece or some goal they are heading towards.  With younger students, parent involvement is very important; just being enthusiastic about what a student is playing even if it is not yet perfect – even if it is a bit ear splitting at times – makes a huge difference! The student’s attitude is also very important. Most are initially a bit reluctant to practice regularly. However, somewhere along the line, a light goes on in a student’s head and they realize that they want to get a certain piece or skill right and it takes work to do that.  Sometimes it needs nudging and sometimes just patience on my and the parents’ part.  Of course never practicing is possibly a sign that the student needs to move to another activity!

Given that motivation is present, there are clear processes that a student can follow to achieve goals of skill or performance. These next few weeks I am going to work with students to follow good practice processes.  One very important step is to take small “chunks” of a piece, maybe even two measures at a time, and work on them over and over very slowly, hands separately for piano, until you can play that particular section.  Then you go on to the next 2 measures and when they are mastered, put the 4 you have learned together.  This works well for difficult piano pieces and also for tabbed guitar tunes and riffs.  For chord changing on guitar, pick a chord change of two chords in a song, and practice changing just those chords over and over. Then go on to another challenging change.  When you have done this small section practice, go back each practice to playing the whole piece or song or the relevant page to see how you are going, but go back to the small section practice the next day.

How long should you practice?  First, please never practice more than 20 minutes without getting up and stretching or getting a drink of water or coffee before you go back to it.  Please don’t do what I did in my first  year at the Conservatorium – sit for three hours at a time and end up with back problems and a numb left arm!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Beginners – if you could practice 5 minutes a day on the work we did in the lesson and if you could do this 5 days a week you would make marvelous progress!  You can practice more certainly but the critical part is doing the lesson work first, then play other things you want to do like composing and just improvising and having fun.
  • Guitar players who have been learning for a while – 20-30 minutes 5 days a week but again do the lesson work first, then work on other projects.
  • Piano players from book 1 to book 4, 20-30 minutes 5 days a week but again do the lesson work first, then work on other projects.
  • Pianists who are working on exams and auditions – it is still true that 1/2 hour 5 days a week of concentrated practice will do a lot more good than 3 hours on the weekend.  You know how much you can and want to practice but it is how you organize your practice that is critical.  First 5 minutes on Hanon to warm up and build finger agility, then the hard chunks of one of your pieces, then scales and arpeggios (the ones relevant to the piece you are working on) and then play through other repertoire is my suggestion.

The key to regular practice is to set aside the same time each day for your practice and this applies to all students.  If you don’t dedicate a certain time to practice it will just slip away.  You need to work out with the family when it is a good time for you to practice and try to stick to it.  If I want to make time to practice I put it in my diary!

Practicing to me now is a privilege.  I wish I had done more and done it more willingly when I was younger – sigh!  Take advantage of this opportunity to master a musical instrument!

Thank you always for learning with Flourishing Muse Studio.