Practice Tips: How to Practice Better
by Fernando Brahms, Music Instructor @happysoundmusic
We all want to be the very best musician we can be. The plan is simple, but the journey is what's truly important. It takes a lot of practice with attention to detail. Yes, that means you should be practicing daily. Many people avoid practicing and jump into whatever they want to do which can develop poor habits and set you up for some tough walls to break. I’m Fernando Brahms, the primary guitar instructor here at Happy Sound, and I’ll be sharing some tips from my own routines today, but some of these techniques can be applied universally across any instrument.
Start slow. When you first look at a new piece of music or a new exercise it’s important to begin with a focus on the technique and intricacies of it. I know playing slow is maybe not the most fun, but it will help you hit the right notes with correct timing. Look for patterns in the music. Look for tempo changes, maybe a weird rhythm, because all these things can throw you off and can make it hard to unlearn once you’ve sped it up. Ideally, you would want to practice with a metronome. Metronomes are readily available via mobile apps on your phone or smart device. Sometimes the clicking of a metronome can be annoying and sometimes it can be not as fun as shredding through the song you already know. But they’ll help tremendously to keep you on time, especially when you’re playing in a band or with another person.
Work backwards. This can seem weird or counterintuitive but trust us it works. One of the toughest things for students to do is keep up with the next set of notes. They’ll learn the beginning perfectly, but start to fall apart as the piece goes on. So what do we tend to do? Start over! The student will hardly get to that part that's giving them trouble. That's where working backwards really helps. Let’s instead work from the end of the section we are having trouble with. Let’s start at the
last measure. Okay easy enough, now let’s also add the measure before, and the one before that. This is going to help you prepare for what comes next in the music. No surprises anymore as you move forward through the piece, because you’ve already looked at that and practiced it. Start from that section and keep moving back until you have that completed phrase.
Spread your workload out over time. It can seem like a chore to pick up your instrument and practice for an hour. 30 minutes is a little more reasonable but it still might seem like a lot for students with busy schedules. Try spreading that practice time over the week. Maybe take 10 minutes before you get ready in the morning or after dinner to practice a small part of your music. If you spread that long practice session out over the course of the week, that’s about 70 minutes you get to practice weekly. This is much easier to do and you give yourself time to continue your busy day. The only downside to this is that you need to have focused practice. Use that time wisely. If speed is your concern, try working with a metronome for those 10 minutes. If tone and note clarity is your concern, work on your picking technique for those 10 minutes. Use that time to study your new music. Not as a time to play what you already know on your instrument.
Listen to someone else play it. This might seem obvious enough, but listening to someone play the song can really help you pick apart those difficult sections. Look at their technique if you can find a video. If you can’t find that specific song, ask one of your instructors. Listen to their interpretation of a piece of music and see how that translates to yours. The more you listen to it, the more the music sticks in your head. Now those weird sounding parts that don’t quite make sense, begin to sound more clear.
Have a vision in mind. This is more near the end, where you’re going to perform the piece. Typically for a solo instrument, you will perform solo music. One thing that was ingrained into me as a student was to have a mental image or vision of what the piece looks like. Think of it kind of like making a movie score. A fight scene is much more dramatic with tense and loud music. A sad scene is much sadder with somber music. Try seeing the music as almost a movie in your head. One example of this is Star Wars. Listen to the heroic music when the main characters win and notice the scary music when the enemies are approaching. A good guitar example I like to use is Lagrima by Francisco Tarrega. The piece is quite literally named tear, so would you play this upbeat and happy? Of course not right! Find that meaning, find that inner connection that the piece has with you and communicate that to your audience.
Strive for improvement, not perfection. Students typically fall into this mindset pretty often. They think to themselves “man I messed up, I have to start again, it HAS TO be perfect.” We will never meet our expectations because we are our own worst critic. Mistakes will happen but it’s better if they happen during practice. Embrace those mistakes, because then you can see where you need to improve. Find those cracks that make you frustrated and fill them in with focused practice. It’ll never be exactly perfect, there’s always something to improve on. So focus on that. Focus on the improvement and the reward for improvement is perfection. Many professional artists understand that there is always room for personal growth through practice.
Here at Happy Sound, we help establish effective practice habits for our students. This means that each student will be able to establish a routine catered to their specific needs with the help of their instructor throughout their lesson time. Whether you like rock and metal or you like classical music, our instructors understand all students are different and may not all benefit from a certain practice routine. That’s why we love to try new things and introduce different techniques in order to find what truly works for each student.
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