April 09, 2015
Making Your Practice Time Count
Wouldn’t it be great if you could pick up a stringed instrument for the first time and immediately play like an experienced pro? One can only dream – of course, the greatest musicians of all time weren’t born virtuosos: it took years of hard work and dedication to their stringed instrument of choice before they were masters of their craft.
With that being said, certain musicians have a knack for progressing quicker than others, but it’s not because they’re in possession of some magic formula: they simply know how to make their practice time more enjoyable and creative. In order to improve your musicianship, you need to know what aspects of your playing should be concentrated on most, but also be wary of not focusing on one area for too long.
Creative Practice Activities
During your practice sessions, these activities should be among your main priorities:
- Maintaining control of the correct notes
- Learning the right bowings and rhythms
- Watching for articulation and bow division
- Carefully listening to tone and vibrato
- Correcting your posture and positioning
- Being attentive to intonation
- Shift practicing with your left thumb (each shift should be repeated up and down, at least five times)
While the order of what you practice first will depend on your skill level, establishing a balanced set of these activities will speed up your musical development tremendously.
Managing Your Time
There are numerous ways to manage your practice time. The following techniques are used by musicians around the world and have proven to be very effective.
Set a kitchen timer for how long you think a goal will take to finish. By giving yourself a certain time frame and trying to beat it with each practice session, you’ll improve your focus and finish your work at a quicker pace.
Document your practices with an audio recorder or video camera. Play it back and jot down every time you change an activity. If you’re not progressing musically, then you’ll know that it’s time to make a change to your activity schedule.
Stick Post-It notes at the start and end of your passages. Be sure to include the proper position and bowings at the beginning, and don’t move on until you’ve played each section correctly more than once.
Note: To avoid getting bogged down with repetition, try to mix up these techniques with each practice session.
Marking Your Music
Many professional musicians recommend that aspiring players mark their fingerings and bowings on a score as soon as they choose them. This is a great idea, because it allows you to begin practicing in the middle of a phrase. For example, you could use specific colored pencils for putting brackets around practice spots, marking tempos, etc. If you want to improve your musicianship, you can’t leave it up to your teacher or instructor to mark your music, so keep a decent collection of highlighters and colored pencils close by during your practice sessions.
Recognizing keys and notes quickly is something every serious musician needs to practice. Listening to passages with your eyes shut, bringing a low passage up an octave, playing and singing simultaneously and even missing notes on purpose (to see if you can spot your “mistake”) are all techniques to try.
In order to work on intonation, a strong ear is a must. It’s recommended that you use drone pitches for checking your intonation’s harmonic purity. Or, record numerous drones with a metronome pulse and play along to it.
Working on coordination between your hands can be done in a variety of ways. Take problems with rhythm and bow control for example: since bow control is a right-hand function and rhythm is typically controlled by the left-hand, you can improve your coordination by working on each function separately. Another way to develop better coordination is to speed up or slow down the tempo of a passage (mind you, never go faster than what you can handle). If a specific passage is slow, play it fast (and vice versa).
While you’re at it, try a technique called “musical sprinting”. Practice short portions and then join them together. Brush your lighter left-hand fingers close to the strings then reduce the thumb pressure of either hand. Or, if you play groups of notes, say the number of each note as you play (ex- “1, 2, 3, 4”).
Exercise your Brain
While practicing the musical instrument itself is crucial, you need to exercise your mind as well. From studying chord structures and correct bow placement to memorizing passages and writing out notes, intervals and key signatures, there is no end to the amount of ways you can keep your mind sharp before you start making beautiful music. Along with music theory, exploring your musical emotions is another way to make your practice time count. By trying different places to practice, playing sections that vary in moods and dynamics and even practicing at different times of the day, you can really give your emotions a good workout.
Never Lose Perspective
Last but not least, remember to never lose sight of why you began playing your stringed instrument in the first place. While practice really does make perfect, it’s important to keep in mind that playing music is supposed to be fun – and when you’re having fun, practicing doesn’t feel like “practicing” at all.
Hopefully these tips and hints have given you enough ideas to try during your next practice session. If you’re curious about anything at all regarding the above info, don’t hesitate to contact Music & Arts. One of our helpful instructors will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.
Need further inspiration for your child? Check out our tips on How to Motivate Your Child to Practice.