‘But I don’t WANT to practise!’ is a phrase you’ve either said or heard many times. We all want to be able to play well, but the path we have to take to get there can often feel like a hard slog and practice can become a bit of a chore. You know that you should do it, and once you get going you’ll most likely enjoy it and feel a sense of achievement afterwards. But often, a bit like going for a run, or before ‘PE with Joe’, there are other things you would rather be doing, such as watching TV or playing in the garden.
So how can you overcome that voice inside you telling you that you do not want to practice? And what makes a productive practice session?
1. Attitude Is Everything
If you are reluctant to practise, be completely honest with yourself and ask yourself what is making you feel like this. Is it because you’re tired, you didn’t have a good night sleep, or you’ve had a very busy day? Perhaps something has happened to put you in a bad mood. Maybe you just cannot be bothered! It is a very good reason not to want to practise, although not a good reason to not actually do any! If you allow yourself to think through what is stopping you and be completely honest with your own feelings, you will be able to approach your practice in a much clearer frame of mind.
2. Remember Your Warm Up
Now you have got the instrument out and committed to spending some time with it, you need to begin with a warm up so that your fingers or lips (depending on your instrument) feel limbered up and ready to play. Warming up on an instrument is exactly the same as warming up before PE; you need to get yourself in the right frame of mind, physically and mentally, to play your pieces. You can do this using scales and arpeggios, or maybe your teacher has shown you some exercises to use at the start of your practise session. To challenge yourself, you could try practising your scales staccato instead of legato, or use a dotted rhythm; try playing a scale up and down two or three times without stopping. It’s always good to push yourself a little bit each time! Aim to hold that long note for a little longer than last time; slur up to the next note on a brass instrument. Once you’ve mastered a particular scale, learn the arpeggio in that key, or move onto a different scale.
3. Do Your Research
Once you’re warmed up, you should be ready to tackle your pieces. Firstly, it is far easier to learn a piece if you are familiar with it. So listen to a recording of it, in Spotify or on YouTube, for as many times as it takes until you find yourself humming the tune. That in itself is good use of some of your practice time.
4. Practise With Strategy
When it comes to practising a piece of music, most people will always start at the beginning and gradually work their way through to the end. But this means that the beginning will become very good very quickly, and the ending remains unsteady. There will be tricky passages in any piece which need particular attention before the piece is ready to perform. For example there may be tricky intervals, an unusual rhythm or awkward fingerwork which requires extra attention. If there is a section of a piece which is challenging you, focus on that one bit, wherever it is in the piece, and don’t think about playing the piece through until you have worked on all the difficult patches over a period of time. It is a good idea to mark out these sections in your music, and plan how and when you are going to work on them.
5. Quality is Better Than Quantity
I often get asked the question ‘how long should I practise for?’. This is a difficult questions to answer because it is all about the quality of the practice, not the quantity. It is possible to spend half an hour running through a piece which you have partly learned, but without paying any attention to all the tricky spots which are going wrong, and therefore not really achieving anything. But spending just five minutes tidying up one of those awkward spots would be a much more effective use of far less time. However short your practice session may be, if you feel afterwards that you can now play something you could not beforehand, you know the session has been really productive.
I hope this has inspired you to set aside time to practise (don't forget to give yourself one day off a week to rest). Remember the more you practise, the more enjoyable it becomes, and the sense of achievement that comes with mastering a piece of music is worth all the hard work. If you’d like some help with planning your practice each week, you can download our FREE Practice Planner by clicking here: https://view.flodesk.com/pages/5e8c98e9b68c420026b64adc