After asking a bunch of students this question, it made me realize that we had not come to a definitive conclusion as to what the word meant in relation to music. The dictionary defines it as “(verb) 1. performing (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.” This is a good start, and hopefully will clarify some myths and/or questions about practicing.
1. Practicing requires consistency: It seems so simple but sometimes we forget; if you don’t play your instrument on a daily, or close-to-daily basis, you won’t get better! I have many young students with a lot of homework, clubs, after-school classes, activities, play-dates, etc. With such a busy schedule, some of them can only practice 1-2 days a week, and sure enough they don’t progress very much. The same can be said for the busy adult with a work schedule and family to take care of. There is no magic number as to how much you should practice, but I find that students who practice at least 3 days a week, have a decent shot of getting substantially better. More serious students should aim for at least 4-5 days. If you’re bad at consistently practicing, try using a practice log, or marking it down on your calendar – remember it doesn’t have to be every day! If a particularly busy week is coming up where you know you won’t have a lot of time to practice, try running your piece even just once per day, or few days. You’d be surprised how much you’ll keep playing after just that one run-through!
2. Practicing requires honesty: This is more for the younger students, but it’s still applicable to any age. I find that the students having the most fun in music lessons are the ones that are the most honest with their practicing habits. If they don’t get to practice for a particular week, they’re upfront about it, which in addition helps me as an instructor to better teach them. While everyone has tough weeks where practicing isn’t a possibility (which any teacher should understand, from time to time), the most honest students are accountable for why they didn’t practice and do their best to do 100% the next week.
3. Practicing requires patience: This somewhat ties into consistency. Learning a piece of music can be surprisingly hard and time consuming. Understanding that the learning process can be long and tedious will help you envision the final product. Long story short, never take your eyes off the prize!
4. Practicing requires fun: If you’re not enjoying what you’re learning, you’re probably not going to play it very well! While not all practicing is fun, you should at least enjoy the piece your playing. If everyday seems like an annoying task to practice, try changing your methods up. Maybe break your practice time up, or have an open discussion with your teacher about why you don’t like practicing. Perhaps you need a different piece or even different instrument! To me, having fun while practicing is a great motivator, and gets me excited to finish learning the piece.
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