This Practice of Practice - Part 1
Playing any instrument and taking the time to practice it is often a constant battle for musicians. Some people have a love/hate relationship with their instrument. They may go for weeks/months without practicing, then suddenly practice almost non-stop for days. And if you have a spouse/kids/day job/pets/etc., finding time to practice can be a challenge.
How To Practice
- Being a drummer is hard. To be a drummer is a life force. You have to be motivated to even deal with this instrument. ~ the late, great, jazz drummer, Roy Brooks
Now with all the distractions and commitments of today's world, it's often difficult to find uninterrupted hours in which to practice. I remember back in my high school and university days practicing all the time. It seemed like when I wasn't actually performing, I was practicing. What a luxury of time I had back then! Now, that isn't possible. But I'm wiser and am able to better use the little time I have.
First, if you are going to put in extended time practicing, turn off your phone and lock the door. You don't want any distractions to pull you away from your practice time. Facebook and e-mail will survive without you for a while. You need to look at your practice time as WORK. No, work isn't a dirty word, it just means that you are focused on the task at hand. Think of how you would feel at a day job, working on something important, and you keep getting disturbed. Being a musician is a lot of work. Respect that. Respect yourself.
If you're a beginner/intermediate player, you need to devote a lot of time to just get the fundamentals down. Once you get this foundation, then you need to devote a lot of time to getting a repertoire down. This is intense and time consuming if you are serious about being a musician. But when you've moved past that, and become, for lack of a better word, a pro, you have put in your 10,000 hours and developed both mental and muscle memory, so a lot of what you do has become instinctive. At this point, hours of practice would be great, but you can get by on much less.
I tell my students I don't expect them to practice hours everyday. But I do expect them to practice some everyday, because you get both momentum and continuity if you practice regularly. It's better to practice 15 minutes on each of 4 days, than to practice 1 hour every 4 days.
This is where micro practice comes in. First, keep your instrument handy. If possible, don't pack it away in its case. You want to be able to pick it up and play whenever you have some spare moments. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, keep it next to the desk. You want to be able to see it to remind you to play it. And you want to be able to grab it, on impulse, to play it. What could be better than taking a break from what you are working on and playing your instrument? I keep a pad/sticks and a hand drum next to my desk. If I get an idea, I can grab something and work on it. When I'm writing music/lessons, I don't have to run to the next room to grab anything to play with.
So imagine you gave yourself 3-10 minute micro practice sessions in a day/evening. That would add up to 30 minutes. There's no rule anywhere that practice time has to be contiguous. I tell my students, see if you can play 10 minutes in the morning/before school, 10 minutes when you come home/before dinner, then 10 minutes at night/before bed. It's so easy to say to yourself, "I don't have half an hour/an hour to practice, so forget it." Break your practice session down into easy to manage pieces.
Part 2 will focus on what to practice.