Top 10 Practice Strategies

This is today’s top 10. On any other day, I might list different strategies. They’re all important.

  1. Don’t wait to understand something (practice, music theory, scales, love, whatever). Do it first. Do it a lot. The understanding will come later.
  2. GO SLOWLY! This is perhaps the most difficult and yet the simplest item on the list. At the most fundamental level, all you’re doing is training your coordination. That must be done slowly enough to avoid all errors and remain relaxed. It’s more of a challenge than it seems. Find out for yourself.
  3. Rest. Rest takes many forms, but it’s the short stuff I want to emphasize. Try this today: After working on a passage/lick/chord/whatever a bunch of times, pause for 10-20 seconds. Then begin again. It’s called micro rest and it’s a secret super-power. Here’s Why. Longer rest is important, too, including spending time in the land of Morpheus. Yes, I’m talking sleep, an issue worthy of many words.
  4. Use a metronome and rhythm backing tracks (Drum Genius, iTabla, Afro Cuban Drum Machine, etc). Stop whining about it and/or making excuses. Do it. It’ll show you where your rhythm is weak. Make your rhythm strong.
  5. Related to this is a hack to get something faster. It’s simple, but not intuitive. Learn the trick and the study that inspired it here.

6. Balance your skills. If you learned to read music (band, choir, orchestra) and use reading as your primary way of playing, start playing by ear. Use a favorite song, something you know well to get started. If you’re an ear player, start learning the basics of reading music. I can get kids as young as 4 or 5 reading rhythms in less than 5 minutes (I like to use Froseth cards and method).

7. Memorize songs. This is mostly for those of us who learned in large ensembles, playing parts. In my experience–even after 7 years of study–few school-trained music students can play a full melody from memory. Isn’t that amazing and sad? Memorize songs.

8. Listen to music and musicians! Seems like no-brainer, right? Listen to examples of the music you’re working on. And go listen to live music any chance you get. Make listening part of your practice every day. In many ways, it’s even better for you than prcticing on your instrument, especially for beginners or when you’re just starting to learn a tune/piece/song.

9. Study with the best private teacher you can find and afford. You will accelerate your progress by leaps and bounds. Music has always been a master/apprentice relationship. One-on-one is superior in many more ways than learning in a large group. It doesn’t have to be weekly, though that’s best. Take a lesson, work on the stuff you get, then take another when you’re ready.

10. Don’t give up. Ever. This is a damn slow process for most of us. Glacially slow. Playing music is like asparagus. Or a fruit tree. You’ve got to grow for a few years before the thing will sustain you. Persistence is key. Frustration and impatience are normal and you will feel them, but try as best you can to ignore and/or banish those feelings and just get on with it.

Good luck!


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Zane says:

    Good to see new posts!

  2. thinkactlove says:

    Such practical advise – remembering you teaching garage band.

  3. thinkactlove says:

    Such practical advise, so important to slow at times, take a micro break sleep on it number 3 ummmm need a chapter on that maybe?

  4. Zane says:

    I’ve just been reading and thinking about the study you linked to in #3. The ‘Correct Speed vs Trial Number’ graphs in that study are really telling.

    First, the subjects weren’t doing a super-simple task. (A particular sequence of key-presses, with specific fingers, with their non-dominant hand.) Kind of like learning a challenging finger-picking pattern/lick on guitar.

    Second, they did 36 reps but almost all of their improvement came in the first 10 reps. So this is very do-able – three and a half to four minutes if you follow this recipe.

    Third, notice in the right-hand graph the big jumps occurred after 10 second rests. A lot of the time they actually got worse during the 10-second practices.

    Fourth, they were instructed to go “as fast and accurately as possible” each time. So to improve it’s best to do both strategy #2 (go slowly) and #3 (fast and accurate with micro-rests). Kind of a paradox.

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