Six Techniques for Perfect Practice

Remember the old saying “practice makes perfect”? Well, forget it. You can practice the same song for five hours, but if you’re practicing it incorrectly, all you’ll get for your trouble is a very strongly ingrained mistake.

When I was a budding young pianist, I had a teacher who cemented this concept in my brain. I can still remember her leaning forward in her chair, eyes drilling into my soul saying “Practice makes permanent!” Mrs. Roschi, if you are reading this, I got it! Another way of saying this is “Perfect practice makes perfect.” So how can you set yourself up for practice sessions that really make a difference?

  • Set a Goal

Goals should be specific and manageable. “Practice until it’s right” may not be the best goal, especially for younger students. A manageable goal for one practice session might be “Practice the first line at half speed until you master the sixteenth note run.” Goals help students monitor their progress, alleviate frustration, and keep the end in sight.

  • Practice at the Right Time

Students should concentrate their practice time when they are physically and mentally able to engage. I always encourage parents to give their children a break after school before requiring them to sit down and practice. After sitting at a desk all day, a little mental and physical down time can be the key to creating a more effective practice session later on.

  • Slow Down

Slow practice is one of the most important techniques students can use to master difficult passages. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the least-used techniques. Slow practice enables you to build accurate muscle memory in your fingers, decreasing the likelihood of mistakes later on. If you practice accurately every time, your fingers will take over even when your brain freezes with stage fright.

  • Use a Metronome

Another little-used tool, the metronome is essential for playing the right notes at the right time. No hesitating over difficult passages! Slow the metronome down until you can play the song accurately in perfect time. Then increase it one or two clicks at a time as you build up to the desired tempo.

  • Engage Your Brain

Thirty minutes of practice with acute mental focus can accomplish more than three hours of mindless repetition. Don’t settle for quantity alone. Quantity without quality will simply ingrain bad habits.

  • Stop When You Need To

When you begin to get tired or frustrated, it’s time to take a break. Get up and stretch, have a snack, or do something else for a while. Frustrated practice accomplishes nothing.

Young students will need their parents’ help in order to implement some of these techniques. They need specific guidelines, schedules, and practice goals to be set for them. As the student matures in both age and ability, he can begin to plan and execute practice sessions on his own.

There is nothing more satisfying than mastering a piece that at first reading seemed impossible. By planning for effective practice, you can accomplish more in less time while also setting yourself up for future success. Practice does, indeed, make permanent.

NOW, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!  What practice techniques help you to achieve your musical goals?  Please post your comment below!

This is a TBMA original article written for our Tampa Bay Music Academy readership.  If you find it to be helpful, we would love for you to re-post it on your blog.  Please contact us first for permission.  Visit our website home for information on finding a music teacher in Tampa, Odessa, Land O’ Lakes, Citrus Park, Westchase, New Port Richey, Lutz, Trinity, Keystone, or Tarpon Springs Florida who offers private piano lessons, guitar lessons, saxophone lessons, voice lessons, or music lessons in any other instrument proficiency category.  TBMA teachers (piano, guitar, voice, woodwinds, brass, strings, percussion) pride themselves in a reputation for an uncompromising commitment to excellence and special care taken for every student. We remain absolutely committed to providing an outstanding enrollment experience beyond any other in the region.  Call us today.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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  • Lynn Tracy

    June 13, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I miss the intonations of this kind of diligent practice that filled our home for so many years. You are right–you got it! I am proud of you, John, and Dad for your musical accomplishments.

  • Edward Motter-Vlahakos

    June 30, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life. This is the way we do it at my studio,… anyway…

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