Thursday, November 1, 2018

Mastering Your Practice, part 1: Finding Time

Crunch time is here for fall juries, concerto competitions, and recitals here at UW!  Of course, one can never successfully "cram" with such an ongoing process as mastering your craft, but there's always room for growth. And as those performance dates get closer, the subject of how to practice effectively always seems more compelling to my students...

In this three-part series, excerpted from my workshop, "How to Become a Practice Wizard", I'll cover everything from finding the time to the nitty gritty of polishing difficult passages. This is a presentation I have given at numerous high schools and colleges across the country, and if you'd like me to come to your school, you can contact me about scheduling  here.

Introductory thoughts…
Ø  Effective practice habits are the result of discipline and time management skills
Ø  Practicing, not performing, occupies the vast majority of our time as musicians
Ø  In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell claims it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. This specific number has been debunked (if only because hours differ based on the person and the specific task), but it’s still true that many hours of repetition are required to achieve the “next level” in any area of your playing.
Ø  Honing your practice skills will not only help you become a better performer, it will make you a more effective teacher, as well. You are the guinea pig for your future students!

Step 1: Find Time

1. Go through your schedule with a fine-toothed comb, placing ( ) around any non-essentials (like watching t.v.) and a * next to moveable items, like meals. Don’t know what exactly you do all day?  Spend one week keeping a detailed log of everything you do, including specific times when you begin and end each activity. Be honest!

2. Now, take your required daily practice time and sprinkle it into your schedule wherever you can.  Be realistic about how long it will take you to find a practice room, get to and from classes, etc. Your practice blocks may be an hour or longer, or they may be as short as 20 minutes.  Work with what you’ve got, and prioritize having every required minute accounted for every day in your written schedule. Replace ( ) items with practice, move * items as needed…be creative!

3. Follow your schedule, tweaking as necessary without sacrificing required amount of practice time. Keep a log of exactly what you do in each practice session and thoughts on what was effective, when you started drifting off, etc. Read this log every night and devise remedies for challenges. You can further break down long practice blocks of 30 minutes or more into smaller chunks with 1-2 minute breaks to maintain your focus.

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