In the theme of New Years resolutions, we’re taking a look at what makes practice good practice. Many musicians resolve to practice more, but that often falls by the wayside because they don’t have good practice habits. This post will give you three key principles for practicing that will make it easier to stick to your goals!
1. Quality over quantity
It can be very easy to get bogged down in ideas of how long we should practice for. Should someone at grade 1 practice for ten minutes or thirty? Shouldn’t someone at grade 8 do three hours? It can make even the best of us feel inadequate when we start to measure the quantity of practice rather than the quality of practice.
Doing three hours of practice is useless if you stop focusing after thirty minutes. For singers, long practice sessions are impossible as our voices get tired. Instead, aim to make the most of the time you have, whether it’s ten minutes or ten hours. Make sure you know what you want to achieve in a practice session – having a routine can really work wonders for this. I usually start with scales and exercises, move on to studies, then classical work, and finish up with the musical theatre repertoire. If I have time, I might pick an old favourite to run over at the end. You might find a different order works better. If you’re short on time, why not choose to work on song A on Mondays, song B on Tuesdays and song C on Wednesdays? If you already know what needs to be done, you can get right on and do it.
Another key to getting quality time is to have everything in one place. Keep your music on the piano, or the music stand, and keep your notes from your teacher with them.
Finally, it’s better to go deeper into a short section of your piece than to sing the whole song over and over fluffing bits of it. Sing through, and then work on the bits that you’re messing up. It’s always better to work in small chunks. Which leads on to my next key principle…
2. Little and Often
Not only is it important to aim for quality over quantity, but that quality time should be a daily occurrence. For singers especially, it’s far better to get through scales in the shower every day and nothing else, than to just do one mega three hour session on the day before your lesson.
Muscles develop best when theyare stretched and used a little bit at a time, but frequently – this is just as true for the tiny muscles in your larynx as it is for the big muscles in your leg. Marathon runners do shorter runs every other day and build up, rather than running a half marathon every weekend and nothing else. Treat your singing practice like that. Sing daily, but do a short focused burst rather than a long gruelling slog. It’ll feel far less arduous! Plus, by singing for a short time every day, it becomes habit and you’ll find it easier to make space for it in your life.
3. The Principle of 80:20
80:20 is an amazingly accurate ratio for many things in human life, but for musicians, I like to think of it as 80% work, 20% fun. In your practice time, you want to aim for 80% effort on the stuff you need to be doing. That 80% includes scales, exercises and the pieces for your teacher. However, 20% of your time should always be for playing and singing the music that you love.
Music is a tough hobby to have as it requires hard work and commitment (if you want an easy ride, following a soap opera might be a better choice!). However, we all took music up for a reason. Whatever you enjoy most about music should be your 20% treat time. You might be studying for a classical piano exam, but you can still enjoy 20% of your time playing jazz improvisation. You might be working for a musical theatre concert, but really love singing a bit of Handel too. Make space for your guilty pleasures – it’ll help to keep you sane when things get tough and you feel worn out and hopeless.
That 20% might even be a cheeky day off practicing, but try not to skive off more than one day in five, or you’ll break your habit!
Practising regularly is hard work, and sometimes we just don’t want to, but if you can get these three key principles working for you, your practice times will feel like less of a chore and more of a pleasure!
Have you got any key principles you use to help you practice regularly and effectively? Let me know in the comments!