10 Fundamental Things People Don’t Understand About Practice

By Nicolas Cole

People that boast how many days they’ve gone without sleep in hopes of proving their dedication to their craft are missing the point.

Practice is an art — it is not a simple “plug and chug” of hours in and skill level out. And in order to actually make the time you spend practicing meaningful, you have to bring a heightened level of awareness.

You have to know what to look for, what to fix, and ultimately, how to enter your “zone.”

1. It’s not about just “practicing.”

Going through the motions isn’t enough.

You have to be present and aware while you practice, and actively looking for all the things you still need to improve upon.

2. Your schedule and your practice times go together.

If you are practicing in the morning some days, evening other days, and afternoons at random, you are not as effective as the person who practices at the same time, every day.

Your schedule needs to be based around your practice hours — not the other way around.

3. Consistency is the most important part.

Rome doesn’t get built in a day.

You can’t go 5 days without practicing and then try to pull a 12-hour marathon to make up for lost time. Practicing a little bit each day is far more effective than day-long sprints.

4. The “sweet spot” for practice is 3–4 hours.

Reason being, that first hour you are still warming up, and that last hour you are entering “burn out.”

So in reality, a 4 hour practice session is really only 2 hours of truly quality practice — which means it is exceedingly important that you are “mentally present” during those middle 2 hours.

5. Don’t practice what you’re already good at.

Competition inherently looks for weaknesses.

If you are a master of one thing but a total newbie at another, then all someone has to do is target your weaknesses. Make it a point to practice what you’re not good at, so that you are more well-rounded.

6. Reflect after each practice session.

Ask yourself, “What did I improve upon today? Did I learn something new? Did I challenge myself? What can I work on next?”

You want to constantly be asking yourself questions so that you know what to improve upon next.

7. It’s not about “getting it done.”

It’s about getting it done “right.”

If you are the type of person who times how long you’ve been practicing, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. It’s not about practicing for the sake of “just practicing.” You have to have a vision, something you are working toward.

Then, it no longer becomes about time. It’s about skill.

8. Study yourself.

The ability to watch and learn from yourself is also extremely undervalued.

If you are an athlete, record yourself playing your game. If you are a gamer, record your screen as you play. If you are a writer, go back through your work with a pen and look for improvement areas. If you are a musician, record yourself and listen to yourself play.

You will never be able to see your mistakes while you’re in the moment of practicing. So separate the two.

9. Watch other people.

If you can learn how to record and learn from your own practice sessions, you will have a better eye for watching how your competition operates as well.

You will be able to pick apart what it is they are doing, and then steal their strategies.

This learning then becomes an inherent part of you — your process.

10. Always be growing.

Always be looking for how you can improve.

Always be focusing on your weaknesses, not your strengths. Always be searching for new competition. It’s a journey and on you to stay moving forward at a consistent pace.

11 Ways to Involve Parents in Music Lessons

How well do you know your students’ parents? Most of my students are dropped off on the fly, so I seldom see their adults. If someone else drives them to lessons, sometimes I don’t even meet them until a recital.

Parents care. They pay tuition for me to teach their children. Obviously they want a good musical experience for them, and hope and trust I can do for their youngsters what they cannot. Many of them would like to be in on the process, if they only knew how.

Involve Parents

  • Hold a Parents’ Week at your studio. Send an invitation a month ahead for parents to sit in on lessons. Plan at least one learning game the parent and student can play together. Make sure the student has something well prepared to show off.
  • Plan a Parents’ Lesson Week, at which you will give the parent a lesson. Let the student act as a Teaching Assistant, with duties outlined ahead of time. Make sure he or she is prepared to encourage, not criticize!
  • Send a bi-monthly or quarterly progress report. Call it something non-threatening like Uniquely Yours, _(student’s name)_. Consider including:
    • Anything cute/funny/brilliant the student has said.
    • Any area of particular improvement.
    • Songs or segments of songs learned during this period.
    • Progress in core skills.
    • Areas showing need of improvement. If you have genuine concerns, call the parent—this is not the place for a serious discussion.
    • Good habits mastered or working on.
    • Positive observations (“Aiden makes me laugh!” “Mia’s note was SO sweet.” “I love Ella’s determination!”).
    • Easy ideas for how parents might encourage the student at home.
  • Video the student playing something he or she knows well, and send it to the parents.
  • Ask parents of young students, as my friend Lori does, if they’d have time to read instructions to their child at home. Or if one of them could offer help during practice. She makes sure not to guilt them. She tells them it’ll be fine if they can’t—many parents, including her own, were hands-off when it came to practice. But Lori notes that there is often a marked difference in the progress of students whose parents are able to sit alongside and offer direction.
  • Follow up promptly anytime a parent offers a concern or suggestion. You don’t have to agree, but don’t just let it slide.
  • Give parents the address for your Music Teachers Helper website. There they might find tuition information, lesson and recital reminders, studio news, photos and more!
  • Host engaging recitals and invite parents to participate. Perhaps they will play a duet with their child. Help with refreshments. Write encouraging remarks to performers. Act as your photographer. You can read about five magical music recital ideas here: 1. Make it More than a Recital 2. Dynamic Duets and Excellent Ensembles 3. Really Rad Rock ‘n Roll Recital 4. Mickey Mouse Club Musical Review 5. Family Folk Song Celebration
  • Encourage voice students—or any students—to learn a simple round. When they know the melody well enough and have practiced it during lessons, send a note home to suggest Mom or Dad ask to be taught their round and sing it together. Great musical training!
  • Teach your students a melody from Andrea and Trevor Dow’s Piano Book Club (Teach Piano Today: Duets for Me and My Not-So-Musical Mates” ) meant for piano students to play together. Adapt it for parents and children. The accompaniment is simple enough to learn in just moments. Invite the parent to come, show how to play the accompaniment and have parent and child play together. This could even be performed at a peer recital, regular recital or other family-friendly venue.
  • Instruct younger piano or guitar students—level 1 or below—to teach their latest pentascale or scale to a parent. The student will play simple chords along with them. They might switch parts. Example:

Parent:     C  D  E  F  G  F  E  D  C

Student:   I                 V7               I

Hint: this can work equally well with grandparents, siblings or other relations and friends. Teaching is a wonderful way to reinforce skills.

One of my goals for the coming season is to involve parents more.

How about you? Do you make efforts to involve parents in their children’s musical journey? How do you go about it?

About the Author

Robin Steinweg

I’m Robin Steinweg, happy to join the team of bloggers at Freedom for Musicians. I teach students of every age piano, guitar and voice (sometimes clarinet & recorder); perform; direct choirs; compose for students, choirs and worship; love to learn and improve. I’m wife of one and mother of two recently-launched musicians. Presently I am caregiver for my mother, a vocalist, drummer and pianist … [Read more]

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