Getting the Most Out of Your Music Practice

"This is challenging! I played this passage everyday last week, but I am still not getting it! How do I practice this?"

Practice and rehearsals are critical to anyone picking up any instrument or sport. Some skills are harder than others, and require a more thoughtful and dedicated approach. Here are a few suggestions which may help you maximise your practice sessions!

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1. Accurate Scores, Reputable Recordings

It is critical to reference accurate scores and reputable recordings for practice. With the vast amount of content available on the Internet, you may want to spend some time selecting references. Referencing is an effective tool to benchmark your progress. Furthermore, it provides an aural understanding of how the piece should be sounding, or what you should be achieving. Select music materials from reputable publishers as they would have already done the research for you. Always discuss this with your teacher, so that the both of you can find a reference that is most suitable. 

Some music scores could have gone through several rounds of editing and changes from the composer's original manuscript. This is because, as a rule of thumb, works are protected under copyright for the life of the composer plus 70 years. The great classical composers have surpassed this time line, and their works are often open to editing and interpretation. It is important to select scores that are from reputable publishers like Eulenburg, Hal Leonard and Boosey & Hawkes.  

Accurate scores will enhance our practice sessions by providing the most accurate representation of a piece on paper. Coupled with a reputable recording, you will be armed with best resources for your own practice. You will be able to spot mistakes faster, have a better perspective on the mood of the piece, and also listen to details which may not be present in less reputable recordings.  D-Flat Music Academy curates and ensures the accuracy of our music, and some of our other preferred publishers are ABRSM, Alfred’s, Poco Studio, Faber Music and Kjos. 

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2. Plan ahead before your practice

Set specific, realistic short term goals before you start your practice routine. Aim for achievable incremental goals, not quantum leaps. Short term goals help you to improve your learning curve and provide a structure to your practice. You can also plan your practice in a way that benefits you the most and make it an enjoyable experience. Planning early also ensures dedicated time for those with busy schedules. That way, you can manage your own expectations to achieve meaningful improvements. 

To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time. - Leonard Bernstein

3. Identify Mistakes and Problems Early On

During practice, be mindful to identify mistakes and problems early on. One way to do this is to record your performance and review it after your practice. Do not memorise when you first learning the piece. Allow the mind to slowly and naturally remember the piece. Any form of repetition increases your understanding of the piece and develops muscle memory. This is particularly critical in practising scales as it involves all ten digits. Accurate and precise fingering is key to achieving that smooth phrasing. 

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4. Work with a metronome

Let the metronome tick. You have heard this from your teacher countless times. Many students find it stressful to practice with a metronome, but it is more essential than many people give it credit for. The metronome instills a steady pulse, aiding in the understanding of phrasing and metre. One point often overlooked by students is that the metronome helps one gauge the weak beats in music by emphasising the strong (down) beats. All of this will lead to better phrasing, better articulation, a steadier tempo, and improved understanding on rhythms.

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5. Reflect on your Practice

An after-practice review is important to assess progress. A simple way to do this would be to jot down notes or thoughts that you have after your practice session. Reflection may highlight details that were not obvious during practice. Sometimes, we may even gain a new perspective on the piece that we are practicing. We can also improve our technique as we reflect on our playing and detect flaws that needs to be corrected at the next session. 

Practice is essential, so one might as well make it fun and effective. Practise with a friend. Exchange feedback. Jam along. There are all sorts of ways to make your practice session fun and lively! 

Play on and Tinkle Away!!