1. Practice when you can focus on it.
This means, set up your practice time in such a way that once you start you can focus on what it is you aim to accomplish. Sometimes the aim is to play your most challenging piece perfectly, sometimes it is just to take a break from the world outside. Whatever it is, make the goal of that practice session to focus on practicing.
2. Practice in the right mood.
One of music’s strengths is to convey emotion. Look at how it is used in movies to enhance how you are supposed to feel about what is happening on screen. Any time Yakkety Sax is played, people can’t help but imagine life being sped up at a comical rate, turning any situation hilarious. Practice to specifically convey a certain mood. Play Chopin’s funeral march at an upbeat tempo. Play any 80’s pop song like it should be incidental music for The Walking Dead. The important thing is to focus on the mood and aim to create something which conveys that mood.
3. Praise yourself in addition to your criticism.
Creative people have a real problem: That inner voice inside their head. It’s the thing which drives us to not settle to produce something that doesn’t live up to what we envision in our mind’s eye. Quite often, all we see are the things that our creation fails to deliver because of one, two or ten little things that we know we could have done better. By focusing on those little things, we can improve what we have created and get it closer and closer to our vision, but this usually means we miss the million and one things we have done perfectly. Unless you have just finished your first practice with an instrument you’ve never picked up before, I can guarantee that if you look objectively at it you’ll find more things you accomplished than you failed at. By looking for and acknowledging your accomplishments, you’ll begin to reprogram your inner voice and give yourself the confidence to practice with more strength and authority.
4. Practice intentionally.
I read an article about a study which found that when musicians learn a new piece of music, those who concentrated on accuracy at the expense of speed fared better than those who kept their speed up and worked to develop better accuracy. Allowing yourself to slow down when needed lets you make sure that what you are playing is correct. Top musicians will often say they set their metronome at a low speed and run through a piece until they can play it at that speed some arbitrary number of times (mostly five times, from what I’ve seen). Once they can play it through without error, they’ll bump up the metronome and play until they can repeat it x number of times without error, and so on until they are playing it at the correct speed. When I was just starting out, friends would comment they thought I sounded better, and that was always after I would learn new songs using this method. By practicing intentionally, you make sure you are in the mindset that you are playing correctly, rather than “just fast”. Concert pianists and violinists will practice new pieces this way, so by saying you’re going to focus instead on “making it through” the song at the normal speed, you’re doing yourself and the music a disservice.
Join me next time for more tips, and keep practicing!