Keeping a playful spirit while practicing is essential. We play every day, so how do we keep it from being drudgery and work?
1) Find somewhere quiet. Quiet needs to be achieved inside and out. Practicing needs to have your entire focus. If there are distractions, then you are are not accomplishing as much as you could be. This can be difficult with practice rooms and busy schedules. Quiet on the outside.....Experiment to find what works for you: practice room, time of day, etc. If you have the most energy in the mornings, you will accomplish the most by practicing then. Some musicians enjoy the company of other musicians, and they practice best hearing others in nearby practice rooms. To some, knowing other people are around makes them more self-conscious of practicing. Each of us are different and so have different optimal practice times. Quiet on the inside.....I find it best to take 5 minutes before practicing to have a constructive rest period. I will do some yoga or stretching, and then I lie down and release tension from my muscles. While releasing muscle tension, I use those few minutes to mentally remove the distractions of the day and focus.
2) Have key supplies nearby. Make sure you have everything you need before you head in to your practice room. If you have a long day, just keep all of your things in your bag. Discovering that you are missing something does not just take time away from practicing but may create a sense of frustration that you carry with you into practicing.
3) Have a goal for each practice session. Map a practice session like a workout. If you don't know where you want to go, you'll never know if you arrive. You should have a map of what you want your performance of the piece to sound like. Each practice session should have a definite path to helping you arrive at performing. This key point will be developed further in subsequent posts.
4) Practice smart, not necessarily long. Time has become a badge of honor among musicians. 4 hours is somehow "lesser" than 7 hours. Practicing between 2-4am has also some magic quality. This value system needs to be turned on its head. The main question should be: how efficient are you with your practice? Quality over quantity. You will not always have 7 hours of free time. Few after college have this kind of time. If you do have 7 hours, you are one of the rare, lucky few, but could you be using those 7 hours better? Physically, you want to be able to play your instrument for the rest of your life. I have come to believe that there needs to be a renewed focus on teaching people how to practice smarter.
5) Don't start at the beginning each time. Mix up your practice sessions. Routine is a wonderful tool, but your mind will grow bored if you don't mix it up. Start working at the end of a piece or with a different piece than you usually do. Create mental and physical challenges while working on the piece. Tap out rhythms while playing. Sing. Say the solfege syllables of the melody. If you are having difficulty keeping a steady tempo, use the metronome while also stomping your feet along with the metronome. This gets the rhythm more firmly in your body. Musicians are creative, and we should also practice creatively to keep sessions fresh and playful.
6) Practice away from your instrument. All practice does not happen with your fingers depressing keys or on your instrument. Use visualization to see your performance, check memorization, and practice. Tap fingers on your legs or a dresser to isolate working on rhythm and/or fingering. This point will also be expanded upon further in subsequent posts.