We all know and understand that practice makes perfect – right? It’s something that has been drummed into us from an early age and if it hasn’t been…it should have been! The statement is absolutely correct, if you do something – anything – long enough, you will get very good at it regardless of whether or not you actually LIKE it. However, it helps to like what you’re doing and that should make the time spent worthwhile. But there is more to this story so we are going to look at the pointy end of practice, what it is, and what it really means.

The dictionary defines music practice as – Repetition in order to improve – the process of repeating something many times in order to improve performance. This is exactly what we do when we practice music. Let’s look at some fact surrounding music practice both true and not so true.

When you first start out playing an instrument one of the first hurdles you are going to come across is boredom! Going over and over something that really has no meaning and no apparent outcome will most likely bore you. This needs to be overcome quickly because if you lose the will to practice, you will eventually give up and this sadly happens to many new music students young and old. Here are some basic rules that should help with your practice journey.

1. Practice for short periods more frequently. If you are a beginner just do 5 – 6 minutes several times a day to not only achieve the desired results but also stave off boredom. Doing shorter bursts will keep the material fresher and doing it more frequently will get the work done.

2. Practice without distraction. If you try to practice with your mobile phone on, your TV going, your Facebook friends chatting or your siblings running all around you will not get any serious practice done! You need to be in a quiet place, just you and your instrument with all other electronic devices off and the door to your room closed. Trust me, the world will still be there when  you finish and you will get the work you need to have done – finished.

3. Keep your instrument handy. Have your instrument ready to play at all times. Have it out on a stand, music books on their stand and ready at a moment’s notice to play. This may not always be practical, but try to make access to your instrument easy the harder it is to get to the least likely it will be you’ll want to dig it out to play it. Make it easy!

4. Be prepared to increase your practice time. You may start on 5-6 minutes but that is not how it will stay. You practice time should reflect the amount of time you need to achieve the goals set by your teacher but more importantly those set by yourself! As you get better on your instrument you need to increase your practice time exponentially to suit. So be ready.

5. Structure your practice. Have a format. Start with warm up exercises, maybe scale work etc then revision. Set aside at least half of your scheduled practice time for new work and then warm down to finish. Having a structure is all about making the most of the time you allocate and in the end you will not only achieve your goals easier but you will also do it better.

As you can see there are many facets to practice some obvious others not so, but as the old saying goes you only get out of your instrument what you put in is reason enough to try to do it right. Lastly, there is some final elements to practice that I think are noteworthy and while these are strictly my own point of view, I believe them to be very relevant.

Open Up Your Listening

You need to listen to a wide range of musical genres (styles). The more you listen the more your ears will hear and if you haven’t heard it – you can’t play it! Different styles offer new tonal challenges and also new ideas that can often be interchanged between styles. Look at players like the guitar shredder Yngwie Malmsteen; in his fiery brand of neo-metal he uses distinctly classical approaches and it works – brilliantly! Every style holds something and no one style is superior – just different. Opening your ears gives you another special quality in music – appreciation! You may not grow to love a different style, but I’m sure you will learn to appreciate it and that is what music is all about!

Human Contact

I have a saying that my student’s often hear – “What good is playing music – if no one can hear it! Playing chords and riffs, scales and arpeggios is fine but if you only ever play it in your bedroom there seems to be little point. Music is about entertainment and sharing the joy of music with others. I believe you need to get out and play with other musicians. Jam with other players and share ideas. You will learn more about equipment, instruments, practice and performance from one jam session with several other muso’s than you will from 10 books! I call it the human contact – it’s a fundamental part of playing that is almost lost among gadgets and hi-tech speak these days. Join a band, a performance club or find a family member or friend that can play and make music together – that is the true essence of music and the reason it was invented in the first place… so get out there.