One of the biggest concerns of any music student - either current or prospective – is whether they have time to practice, or how long they should practice. They call it playing music, and it is fun and rewarding, but it's also challenging and can be frustrating, and it all happens at home. You're not alone, and it doesn't have to be overwhelming. There are no rules, you get out of it what you put into it. It's all a matter of perspective!
You Have the Time
The issue of whether or not you have enough time to practice is, to be frank, nonsense. If you have a Netflix subscription, you have time to practice. If you checked your Facebook account (or looked at and "liked" our fantastic Facebook page), you have time to practice. We know of no individual who has absolutely zero time at their disposal to practice, so let’s eliminate that right off the bat. There are 10,080 minutes in a week, and we get to see you usually for 30 to 60 minutes. Obviously, there will be some work to do on your own. In the course of a typical day, everyone has a few extra minutes, just take a look at how you organize them. It's easier than you think!
Since you do have time to practice, how long should you be practicing? Obviously, it depends on what your goals are and your level of dedication, but most beginner students can get away with about 10-15 minutes a day. The hard part is making sure that the work is consistent. Don't practice HARD, practice SMART. 5 minutes of focused work on a weaker area is far more productive than an hour of playing things you're already comfortable with. Prioritize weak spots and make your goals smaller and more attainable, then do as much as you need to in order to feel like you've accomplished something. 30 minutes is a rough suggestion, it takes as long as it takes. Have a goal and a plan before you begin. Feel good about accomplishing a goal, then end on a positive - play the easy stuff for a few minutes to finish confidently and have some fun!
Lots of Little Meals
Getting better at music is a lot like eating. You need to consumer a certain amount in a given time frame, but it’s a lot healthier to ingest in smaller, more consistent amounts. Would you rather eat one enormous meal in a day, or three meals plus a couple of snacks? It’s the same with practice: One day a week for 75 minutes will not be nearly as effective as five days and 15 minutes per day.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
It’s all part of how the human brain makes new connections. Brains love when people repeat things over and over again. It’s how you learned to walk, learned to read, learned to ride a bike. Music is no different. The act of simply doing will move things forward, even if you don’t always feel like you’re moving that way.
Feeling Good About Yourself
A lot of beginning music students (and indeed, our more advanced ones as well) feel self conscious playing a certain section, or get frustrated by being unable to perform a phrase or two. But rather than work out the difficult sections, other parts that have been learned are repeated simply because they already sound good. They make us feel good about ourselves. When you play something that doesn’t sound as good, you don’t feel as good. Again, it’s human nature.
But think about this: If you can make even a single bar of a section you couldn’t play before sound good, that’s one more unit of music that can add to your pleasure. Taking pride in little moments means you’ll be feeling victorious more of the time, rather than worried about the sections you can’t play right away. Don’t worry; they’ll come in time just like the single bar you just conquered.
Even your teacher was just where you are, at some point. We do understand the frustration and demotivation you feel when something is a challenge. But we also know the pride and satisfaction of overcoming those challenges. Our job and passion is helping motivate students to achieve their very best. We really love music, and we want to help you experience what we are fortunate enough to experience every day.
Just so you know: We all continue to practice to this day. We love music. The pleasure of hearing that section come together, the pride of knowing we are creating beautiful music that much better than we did the day before. Truly, the journey never ends. We have all dedicated our lives to our craft, and we are all continuing to learn. It might not be your ambition, but what you do now is a lifelong gift to yourself even if you don't think so now. The only regrets we have are for things we didn't do, and there's nothing to lose. And remember, you are not alone!
Your teacher has lots of tips and strategies to help you deal with practicing, and they are always happy to share their knowledge and experience with you to make things as easy as possible. In fact, that's our job! Don't be shy, we're here to help. Here are a few strategies and ideas for tackling the practice monster.
Pacific Standard - Jan 16, 2014
A recently concluded study of young musicians shows that a long term musical identity is critical in motivation.
"...those with only a short-term commitment to music “were not able to attain the same results, or sustain motivation, for as long as those with a long-term identity”—even if they practiced as much as their peers."
Read the whole article here.