How Do You Practice?

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If you’ve ever taken a music lesson, I’m sure you’re familiar with the lesson ending with these four words: make sure you practice! Ever since my first piano lesson back when I was 10-years-old, I have been continuously told, by teachers and colleagues alike, how important it is to practice – and I couldn’t agree more! When learning any new skill, especially one as complicated as playing an instrument, regular practice is crucial to developing things like coordination, time, intonation, note reading, etc. That being said, I’m a firm believer in the old adage: it ain’t what you do, it’s how you do it. Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your practice.

1. Vary your practice

While the idea of practicing one particular idea or exercise for a long period of time (massed practice) has long been accepted as the most effective approach to learning, studies of this approach have shown it to be quite ineffective in comparison to practicing a variety of different exercises for shorter periods of time (varied practice). Here’s an example of how we can vary our practice:

Instead of 10 minutes – Exercise 1 try 5 minutes – Exercise 1
Instead of 10 minutes – Exercise 2 try 5 minutes – Exercise 2
Instead of 15 minutes – Song  try 5 minutes – Exercise 3, 5 minutes – Song, 5 minutes – Exercise 2, 5 minutes – Exercise 1, and 5 minutes – Exercise 3

When it comes to building lasting long-term memory, whether it be remembering the correct notes in a scale or a movement associated with a particular technique, recalling information has been proven to be the most effective way to build new neuron connections in the brain.

2. Create a practice routine

I’m sure we’re all guilty of sitting down at our instrument to practice, only to spend our entire practice time playing through exercises or songs that we’ve already mastered. Although this can be fun to do from time to time, it’s important to spend at least some of your practice time working on skills that you haven’t quite mastered yet. Creating a practice routine can be a great way to stay focused and to help prevent you from falling into habits of massed practice.

I recommend taking a few minutes away from your instrument to write down what you plan to work on, how long you plan to work on each part, and any metronome markings that you have. Here’s an example of a 15- minute practice routine that I made for one of my students:

3 minutes – sticking exercise/rudiments MM – 100 bpm
3 minutes – grooves
3 minutes – rhythm clapping MM – 80 bpm
3 minutes – drum set coordination exercises MM – 60 bpm 3 minutes – play through song

Here are a few tips:
– Practice with a timer (I use the timer on my iPhone)
– Be sure to bring your practice routine sheet into practice space and put it somewhere you can easily reference it
– Spend a minute or two at the end of each practice session to reflect on what needs more or less work and adjust your routine accordingly

3. Record your practice session

The ability to record and listen back to your practice session is maybe the most powerful tool you have when it comes to making the most of your practice time. I recommend recording your practice once every couple of weeks. Spend a few minutes skimming through your practice session and make notes on your practice routine sheet. This will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and will allow you make the best use of your practice time.

Make sure you practice!

Leonard Patterson, drums teacher