Practicing While the World is On Fire

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” – Jean de la Bruyere

More often than not I feel like I am running around with my hair on fire. My day is packed with a thousand different things that demand my focused attention. I am also aware that I waste time on mindless things throughout the day- think Facebook, Twitter, coffee consumption. If I am not careful I can go a week or more without ever practicing my guitar. I will most likely play my guitar but not practice. Practicing is the “going to the woodshed moment” where you are dedicating a period of time to get better at something. When practice is neglected my playing suffers. Segovia said (paraphrase), “If I don’t practice for one day, I notice. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife notices. If I don’t practice for three days, the world notices.” How true that is.

Maintaing a consistent practice routine is difficult, to say the least. I have a full-time job, am married, and have three children with extracurricular activities that are time hogs. When I do get to practice I have to maximize every moment of precious time.

Often, I am called upon to play for a variety of functions. It would not look favorably upon me if I played the same pieces over and over. I need to continually add new music to my repertoire. I also get bored playing the same pieces time and again. Practicing efficiently gives me the opportunity to learn new pieces.

My teaching would also suffer if I did not maintain my “chops”. You cannot simply tell students what to do 100% of the time. Sometimes you have to demonstrate so the student can hear and see what you are speaking about. This is also an appropriate way of modeling for your students what a professional musician looks like. Lastly, I went into this careered because I love to play the guitar. I want to play the instrument and learn new ways of expressing myself and music on the guitar. 

Here are a few tips on how to be efficient and effective with your practice time:

1) Prepare Materials
Make a binder with all of the music you need to learn and keep this with you in your bag. Whenever you have a moment to practice you have the scores with you. Preparation is the key to being efficient with your time. I have begun utilizing my iPad device for music storage. Scan all of your materials, upload to the cloud (I use dropbox) so you can have access the files on your computer, tablet, or mobile device.

2) Use Any Available Moment
Finding an available hour in your day to practice is probably a major challenge. But, what about 15 or 20min? I can usually find 15min here or there throughout my day. If I have my materials with me I can slip off somewhere and put in a few minutes in practice. Another tip is to always have your instrument – this suggestion works well for college students. If you cannot carry your instrument everywhere rehearse visually. Work on your memory, do some score study – marking phrasing, key centers, chord progressions, etc.

3) Practice Intelligently
When you do sit down to practice work in chunks. Choose one phrase or a few measures in the piece to work on. Work slowly at first to gain control and fluency of movement. Speed up the tempo little by little so you can maintain control and accuracy. The reps you get working on a small chunk of the music will help you “perfect” that portion of the piece.

Also, think about what is going on musically: phrases, modulations, texture (what other instruments are playing in this passage).  

4) Rehearse Difficult to Easy
Related to #3 is work on challenging material first and frequently. It seems like we spend too much time playing the easy passage, because we can play them better sooner. Fight this tendency and go right for the difficult portions of the music. You will help insure successful execution of this passage by getting more repetitions. Review the portion you rehearsed two to three times that day. This will help you imbed the information in long term memory.

5) Rehearse Material Consistently
Have a consistent rotation for the pieces you are working on. Make sure these pieces come back up at frequent intervals, every other day max. If you have five new pieces to learn do not binge on one piece until you have it mastered. Forge ahead, consistently, on all your pieces. Binging on one piece is a sure fire way to sound horrible on the other four you need to have learned.  

6) Maintenance 
Technique should never be neglected. It is the vehicle for musical expression. You would not expect your car to run well if you neglected routine maintenance. Do not expect your technique to “work” well without maintenance. I also consider musicality and creativity in this maintenance category. You must work on making music, not note realization. Learn about the music you are playing. Also, creativity is why we are musicians. Make sure you are being creative with your guitar playing. Have moments of improvisation and composition with your instrument. That is a great way to practice technique and enhance your musicality.

How do you find time to practice? What are some tips you have about maximizing your practice time? 


Has one comment to “Practicing While the World is On Fire”

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  1. Mackenzie Mendez - March 14, 2013

    helpful article-thanks!

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