Most people have heard the adage, “practice makes perfect.” However, this statement is not entirely true. Drawing from the wisdom of my former teachers, and my own personal experience, “muscles have memory” and “practice makes permanent.” Since permanence most certainly does not guarantee perfection, here are a few tips for making sure you get the most out of your practice time.
Before you do anything else, make sure your mind is clear and able to concentrate. Without the ability to focus, your practice will, at best, maintain your skill, but more likely, introduce or reinforce bad habits. It is better not to practice than to do so with a foggy, tired mind. Take a nap, have a snack, start relaxed.
2. Warm Up
Just as athletes warm up before any sport or fitness activity, musicians need to warm up as well. Since muscle memory is what we are building through practice, we must be intentional about getting those muscles ready to learn. Scales are a good way to warm up. Use something fun and familiar. Five minutes is usually enough and having a set routine makes it easy.
I remember teaching a song to my worship team when my voice was not warmed up. During the service when my voice was fully warmed, my muscle memory brought back all of the straining from trying to sing the song cold. Not fun.
3. Go Slow
Especially when learning a new song, take your time. Mistakes usually come from going too fast. Speeding up the tempo after you have learned the song is much easier than learning mistakes and having to reprogram those muscles.
4. Take Breaks
Don’t feel the pressure to have a long practice time. Even if you do practice long, take breaks. Give those muscles a chance to recuperate. Play five minutes, rest five minutes. This method will greatly increase the effectiveness of your practice time.
5. Repeat Often
It is so much better to practice everyday for 10-15 minutes rather than twice a week for two hours. Squeezing more practice times into your week will provide greater and faster results.
6. Have Fun
When practice is only about learning new songs or working through difficulties, it can be hard to stay motivated. Playing songs you love or simply improvising as an emotional release is critical to an enjoyable practice. Let your heart be happy during practice time. Make beautiful music.
7. End Early
It is possible to over-practice. Knowing when you’re done and quitting while you are ahead is important. There were times in college when I worked my fingers until I couldn’t play a song at all. If you notice that you are making more mistakes than when you started, you have practiced too long. Again, as in the first tip, only practice for as long as you can concentrate. You should feel encouraged and refreshed after practicing, not exhausted.
Did I miss anything? What makes your practice time effective?