How to Practice
By Martin Schuring
Many students don't like to practice, don't do it enough, and don't practice productively. They don't even know what to practice. And there are those who practice four hours a day, yet are rarely prepared for lessons, much less concerts. This will help.
How to Practice
How you practice is the essential. If you don't do it well, it doesn't matter what or how often you practice. It can actually be a burden if done inefficiently. The reason some play it badly is because they can't play it yet. So they play it badly many times and quit and reinforced the incorrect training. There is a better way.
You can think, plan, and practice methodically. Never do it wrong. Use good posture and good sound, but play the right notes with the correct fingerings and bowings at all times. The secret lies in frequent correct repetition. If you practice ten times, but wrong, then you just told your brain how to play wrong. You only have one chance to play right in the performance, so play it right every time.
This isn’t as hard as you might imagine. Slow it down and play at a speed where your brain can work faster than your fingers. Anytime you are out of control and speed, play in smaller sections, play through, and balance your portion and speed.
Slow practice allows you to play perfectly and to include nuances and inflections that might be hard at full speed. It allows for pitch control, perfect resonance, clean technique, timbre, and color. Gradually bringing up the speed improves your performance.
How Much to Practice
This depends on age and seriousness. For a beginner, 40 minutes and for a college major, 3-5 hours. Beyond 5 hours is unproductive, because the mind and body are too tired. Less than 3 hours, less improvement.
Split the practice time and take a break of 10 minutes each hour. Treat practicing like eating meals and don’t skip it. If you think of practicing as work and drudgery, then you have never practiced enough to experience the reward. Practice warm-ups and scales, etudes, specific technical exercises, pieces and excerpts and sight-reading.
"I could play it at home"
No you couldn't. You just weren't paying attention. It’s the phrase that teachers hear the most. Some students concentrate during the lesson and play well once by accident. Pay close attention to your practice, so your performance will more relaxing, more rewarding, and easier and you will be less nervous.
"I can play it fast, but I can't play it slow"
This really means, "I can't play it at all." You should be able to play it fast, slow, in between, in different rhythms, articulations, portions, and entirely with or without music.
Play exactly with the clicks and with precision. Start slow then increase the speed very gradually. The object is to trick your brain into feeling that it's still the same speed. Any awareness of a faster tempo, and the benefit is lost. If you make mistakes, get tense, then you're going too fast. Slow down and take your time. Record yourself and listen!
Do you get mad when you practice? Instead of pounding your head on the wall, put a fix it plan into action. After playing, detect problems by using words such as unclear, uneven, flat instead of unhelpful words such as bad or ugly.
You cannot play what you do not understand. Your fingers will move no faster and no more accurately than your brain guides them. Get the score and learn the piece. Imagine how the phrases will sound in your ideal performance, then you should proceed.
Often, students prefer practicing fast music to practicing slow music. In fast music, play it fast and accurately. In slow music, do work on rhythm, vibrato, tone and pitch, but mental practice is the answer here. Have fun imagining!