Robert J. Lawrence (Jimmy)
What practice isn’t
Let’s start by biting off the biggest parts of this problem – there are some things that you and I both do during our practice time that really doesn’t qualify as actual practice. If you remember my struggles from before, playing through an entire piece over and over again is not practice. Sure, we often need to memorize our pieces, and this really does take many playthroughs – but usually, we’re just going through the motions… and this is not doing much to advance our musicianship. If you’re working through your music end-to-end, and you’re not listening, analyzing, emoting, and projecting (among myriad other tasks), then you’re just functioning as a barely-living player piano for an audience of none. Yawn. No wonder you’re bored!
Another thing – are you practicing your scales and arpeggios? Most students find that boring and uninteresting as well. However, as I mentioned before, if you aren’t truly engaged in the task, of course it’s going to bore you! I recall saying to my jazz instructor, “I don’t need to work on my scales. I’ve done my time!” However, this was a folly on my end. I can always work on my scales, and it will improve my fingering and speed, which will lead to more confident performance and improved sight-reading skills. However, if that isn’t your goal, why do it? Don’t “practice” scales just to please your instructor. That’s not practicing – it’s just going through the motions.
Finally, I also have to say that twenty minutes isn’t a practice session. It’s barely a warm-up. This doesn’t give you enough time to really engage with your studies neither mentally nor physically. Along the same lines – and this is a huge pet-peeve of mine – your lesson is not a practice session. It is a time to refocus your study, allow yourself to be corrected (so you don’t continue making the same mistakes in your practice), gain insight from your instructor and his/her observations of your performance, and solidify your goals. Your teacher is just that; a teacher, a mentor. Not your practice-master. You should always warm-up before a lesson (to be prepared), and practice afterwards (to lock-in what you just learned).
Practice is individual
All of this being said, your practice is not going to look the same as mine – or anyone else’s, for that matter. Everything I’m writing about here is for you to take and mold into what you believe is going to be your most productive/effective “best-practice.” Practice is practice, performance is performance, and sometimes we might want to just play – and there’s nothing wrong with that! These are all just some guidelines that I’ve observed make for a more productive and rewarding practice.
So far, what does practice mean to you? Has your perception of what practice is changed over time? Let us know below:
Jimmy here! My desire is to help others grow musically - especially those who don't have access to resources. I'm a husband, father of three, graduate student, and music educator.