We all have limited time for everything we do and that’s the same thing with practicing our instruments.
So how do we make the most of our precious practice time?
I divide this into 3 distinct phases:
What is pre-practice?
Pre-practice is the preparation phase.
It means you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to start right away when it’s time to practice.
So this implies:
- Setting a specific practice time everyday on a regular schedule (at least 5 days a week): it’s important to turn your practice time into a habit so that once you get used to practicing at the same time each day, you will no longer think about when to practice because you will know (and so will your family or other people in your home) this is your practice time.
Also, make sure you choose a time when you’re in the right headspace to practice so that you get the most out of it.
- Knowing in advance what to practice: this is definitely the most important thing and it means you need a practice routine which i discuss extensively here.
- Keeping away from distractions: isolate yourself in a quiet room where no one will disturb you (wife, kids, pets 🙂 ).
Turn down your phone, and if you use a computer (which you most probably do) then turn off the internet connection.
- Getting everything ready beforehand: make sure all your equipment (guitar, computer, stand..) is already set up by the time you start your practice. If you need to put the guitar out of the case (which was stored in the closet), change strings, plug stuff etc. before each practice session, it will not only make you waste your precious time but if it’s too much of a hassle to do, you might start losing motivation at some point and even stop practicing!
Ok, so hopefully now you’re all set up and ready to practice.
Here are some very important things to consider to make the most out of your practice session:
- Practice challenging things: it’s important to play things well but once you CAN play them well then it’s time to move on and try things you CAN’T play. Of course, this should not be something completely unrealistic but new challenges will help you make progress and keep your motivation high.
- Practice slowly: practicing things very slowly first will not only make you play them perfectly at faster tempos later on, it will also make you notice things you need to fix that you have never noticed before!
By focusing on all those little details where there is room for improvement, your playing as a result will sound smoother and you’ll end up being a better player in the long run.
- Don’t practice making mistakes: when you notice a mistake, don’t ignore it, fix it. Repetitive mistakes can turn into bad habits that are much harder to get rid of later on.
- Be focused: this is your practice time and this is all you have so try to stay focused, you will have time after the practice session to think about what’s for dinner or where you should spend your next vacation 🙂 And being focused helps you better notice mistakes in your playing too. That being said, if you feel like your concentration falter then it might be time to…
- Make small pauses: sure, it is great to practice 3 hours straight but to stay fully concentrated the whole time is pretty much next to impossible!
If you feel your attention span diminishing then it’s time to make a small pause or even call it a day if you feel like you can’t absorb anything new! If you practice 1 hour each day, then try to make a small 1 or 2-minute pause every 15 or 20 minutes.
- Record yourself: recording yourself is a great way to notice and fix things that are wrong in your playing that you would probably not notice otherwise (unless a teacher or someone else points it out).
Recording yourself on video too if you can is a great bonus because you might also notice things like bad posture, hand placement etc. This is just an honest picture of where you’re at so don’t be afraid to do it!
This very last step (record yourself) is also tied to the last important phase of practice which is..
Post-Practice (things you will do after you’re finished practicing):
- Listen to your recording session: this is how you will measure your progress. Hearing how much you have improved after a few months is such a powerful motivator!
But make sure you give an honest listen to what you’ve recorded: it’s important to notice things you played well and congratulate yourself if you feel like you’ve made progress but it is equally important to notice things you did not play well and how to correct them. You can do this either during your practice session or afterwards. I prefer the latter and usually do that before the next practice session when i feel like i’ve got fresh ears and a rested mind.
- Keep a practice log: this one kinda goes along with the last idea because writing down what you do on a regular basis is also a great way to measure your progress and will also help you understand what worked and what did not and fine tune things for your future practice routines. And for many people, ticking things off the list feels like a powerful motivator too!
So hopefully those ideas i’m sharing with you will help you make the most of your practice time.
The last thing i want to mention is that above all, you should never forget to have fun because this is what music is all about!
So don’t let all this practice thing feel like work, it might look daunting at first but once it’s set up and flowing then it will feel natural and you will gradually reap the rewards, make progress and fun will become the greater part of the journey!