Don’t Forget to Practice

keep-calm-and-practice-your-instrument-3What does it mean to practice? If you’re like me, you are happy just to have time to pick up your instrument and get a sound out of it. More often than not I’ll just play a bunch of tunes. And that’s not a bad thing at all, I suppose, but if you’re just playing aimlessly and not really paying attention to what you’re doing, is it really worth it? If you’re playing tunes incorrectly the whole time, or executing ornaments sloppily, is it really beneficial to you, or does it just make things worse?

Practice, on the other hand, is performing a skill repeatedly to perfect it, right? But you have to know what your goal is. If you have no clue what “perfect” means in your particular field, you’re shooting spitballs in the dark. And I doubt you’ll like what you see once the light is turned on. Neither will your mother, so clean that mess up!

Wow, I’m the analogy master.

But really, you need goals. Short, medium, and long-term goals. It’s kinda like life. If you’re not aiming for something you’ll be lucky to hit it. So take a few minutes to sit down with a pencil, paper, computer, whatever you have to write with, and jot down what you want to accomplish with your playing.

For example, and hypothetically speaking, let’s say I want to play fiddle at regular, full speed sessions. (This is actually true.) That would be my long-term goal. Now I have to decide what I need to do to get there.

There’s a lot involved in playing Irish music, like rolls, cuts, and intonation. Also, string crossing and figure-eight bowing patterns that happen in so many Irish tunes. As short term goals, I can set a little time aside at each practice session to work on those things.

Another short-term goal might be to work on my speed–playing regularly with a metronome, and increasing the speed gradually over multiple practice sessions.

My medium-term goal might be to learn 3 tunes that I can put together as a set, so that when I get to try my new skills out I am prepared. So I can devote a little time at each practice session to that as well.

Both the short-term and medium-term goals serve the long-term goal, obviously. It’s up to you to decide what is important to you in terms of reaching your long-term goals. You might not think that snappy rolls and cuts really matter all that much for session playing, or that you want to defer working on them so you can work with a metronome to increase your speed. Don’t set intonation practice aside though, please–no one will want to play with you if your intonation is bad.

So let’s say I get an hour to practice every day. I might break down my session like this:

INTONATION–10 minutes scales along with a recording or drone note.

ORNAMENTATION–5 minutes each rolls, cuts, trebles, slowly (15 minutes total)

BOWING–10 minutes play part of a tune that uses the figure eight bowing pattern, slowly.

TUNES–25 minutes learn/practice playing a tune, slowly (at least half-speed) focusing on the notes and intonation. Use a metronome for consistency, and increase speed regularly.

As I get better at the skills, I can change my goals. Eventually I’ll want to play the tunes adding some ornamentation, but I’ll save that for later.

Anyway, I hope this helps. I know it’s difficult to be disciplined about practice when you just want to PLAY. But there’s a difference between playing and practicing. Practice at home, play at the session. And may your practice be focused and productive–you’d be surprised how much your playing improves if you devote a little time each day to the basic skills. And furthermore, there’s already a ton of info and opinion about effective practice online and in published form, so do your own googlin’ and see what else is out there. Most of what I have written here is based on what I’ve learned online, but al ot of it is just common sense.

Happy practicing!

P.S. I recommend recording yourself as well–this can give you valuable feedback on your progress. DO IT! I do: ME ON YOUTUBE


One thought on “Don’t Forget to Practice

  1. It’s always good to grab the fiddle and play,
    But ask the best, and they’ll surely say,
    That well planned practicing wins the day!

    Here’s my current practicing agenda, which has been written down and followed “most days” for the past few months …… (since I first “entered the building” and joined LVISS) It looks very long, but it actually takes about 80 minutes. It REALLY helps to have it written down so that I keep track of where I am.

    1. Brand New tune – the new tune I’m currently trying to memorize, just to see whether I’m at the point where I can pull it out of thin air.
    2. Twice through each of two (un-setted) tunes that I’ve fully memorized. These have not yet been put into LVISS sets, so I’m still playing them alone to keep them solid.
    3. LVISS set #1 – of three current LVISS sets that I know ….. [twice through each tune in the set. (I haven’t yet figured out what I’m going to do when I’ve learned a whole bunch of these sets. I’ll probably start cycling through three of them in some way)
    4. Twice through my latest fully memorized LVISS tune.
    5. Brand New tune again. Doing what I have to do to make my way through it twice. Stopping and practicing stumbling spots
    6. Repeat step #2. Twice through each of two (un-setted) tunes that I’ve fully memorized.
    7. LVISS set #2
    8.Repeat step #4. Twice through my latest fully memorized LVISS tune.
    9. Repeat step #5 Brand New tune again.
    10.Repeat step #2 Twice through each of two (un-setted) tunes that I’ve fully memorized.
    11. LVISS set #3
    12. Repeat step #4 Twice through my latest fully memorized LVISS tune.
    13. Repeat step #5 Brand New tune again.
    14. Scales: Two octaves up and down, followed by major arpeggios up and down, in the following keys [G,Ab,A,Bb,C,D,Eb,E,F,] When I started doing this it took about 25 minutes. After about a month it settled into the point where it now takes 6-7 minutes!

    I find that getting physically tense and staying mentally focused is a problem, so I stop and stretch every 15 minutes or so. (I often do a little chore that I know will only take a few minutes, but will move my body in a different direction.) Otherwise, I really can’t do a practice routine that is this long.

    By the way, I’m a full time retiree. (I never practiced like this in my younger days. I really wish that I did! At this point, it’s now or never ….. and I can’t say that I don’t have the time, can I?)

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