When it comes to effective practice, it’s about quality more than it is about quantity. Even shorter practice sessions can yield significant results if you are in the habit of cultivating focus.
In this fast-paced, multitasking culture, many of us have forgotten what it looks like to be intentional and aware in the present. This is why learning to play an instrument for the first time can present a challenge; it requires concentration and alertness.
Follow these simple steps to maximize the time you spend in practice.
Many people tend to view life as a day-by-day event. However, even within the context of a single day, there tend to be different segments. It’s a good idea to get clear on your intentions for every segment.
Getting up in the morning is a segment. Showering and grooming yourself is a segment. Driving to work is a segment. Likewise, sitting down to practice your instrument is a segment.
As you begin your practice session, clarify your intentions and present them to your mind. Say two or three sentences to yourself. For example, I intend to focus on my study material. I intend to learn something new. I Intend to enjoy myself as I practice.
This habit of intending will serve you well if you commit to it.
Goal-setting is an extension of intending, but it’s more specific. Where segment intending is the practice of clarifying your intentions from one distinct part of your day to another, goal-setting is the act of putting your objectives into concrete terms.
Your goals should be specific, attainable, measurable, realistic and time-bound (i.e. SMART goals).
It is useful to have short-term, mid-term and long-term goals, as only having long-term goals can cause you to become discouraged early on, and only having short-term goals makes it difficult to ascertain what you are building towards.
Your goals are there to motivate you. Write them down, and keep them somewhere where you will see them often.
You may have heard of musicians who used to lock themselves in a room to practice for hours on end. While it is not necessary to do this for long stretches of time (there will be diminishing returns after a certain point), it is wise to create an environment in which you can actually focus on your work.
If you are in the habit of practicing by electronic devices, pets, family members and other distractions, you are simply setting yourself up to fail. Find a quiet room, turn off your cell phone, and set some boundaries with family members if necessary.
Many people find that a consistent space and time benefits their practice routines. If you are able to practice at the same time in the same room or environment every day, you may want to give it a try.
Don’t forget to take some time to warm up before getting into your practice session. This isn’t just about preparing your body; it’s about preparing your mind too.
After a long day, your thoughts can become cluttered and scattered. You may find it useful to meditate for a few minutes before beginning. If you can’t meditate, you could simply deep breathe.
Then, start warming up your fingers, limbs, etc. Play through scales or rhythmic exercises and use a metronome in the process.