Cramming For A Lesson Doesn’t Work
Unlike studying for a test about information that you may never use ever again, learning how to play an instrument for the short term (IE from lesson to lesson) doesn’t work. Learning how to play an instrument is a skill. What you learn is used as you advance and become more experienced. If you learn things only with short term memory, never ingraining the skills into how you play the instrument, progress will never happen. This means that you cannot do a weeks worth of practicing in a 2 hour cram session the night before your lesson. Typically this leads to a crash and burn situation. More importantly, students become frustrated due to the lack of improvement they make, and they don’t understand why.
Ultimately, you should find a balance of how much time you can realistically give to practicing daily. This number should not be one that you hope to get, but one that you know you can accomplish daily. I think it is very important to have realistic standards for one’s self. With that said, typically we won’t find the amount of time we want to give to an instrument in a single sitting. So learning how to break up your practicing becomes very important. However, there are then always days where we have other things that spontaneously come up. How do we deal with them? By having a realistic amount of time you practice, you can now equally take time away from different areas of your practice. This means that you might not get everything done today, but at least you do get some work done. Typically we see this when it comes to practice time, either:
- We are able to get in all of our practice in a day
- We have less time, and use it to work on a few important things
- We use what little time we have to play the instrument, but make no real improvements
- We say that “Well, I don’t have enough time, so I won’t practice today.”
This list is done in order of important (the best being at the top, and worse being at the bottom). You never want to go a day without at least touching your instrument. With that said, you should strive, if you don’t have much time, to make you practicing worthwhile. So what can you do? You can isolate a single problem area to focus on for your short practice session. Instead of worrying about the full piece of music, or a list of technical concerns you want to accomplish, focus on one area. Use the 10-15 minutes to really become involved in that area, trouble-shoot/problem-solve the situation. Try and come up with possible solutions and put them to work. Reinforce the idea, and see how it works. If it does, then continue to practice your solution, but if it doesn’t look for another one. This may seem counter productive, but it is very beneficial. By working this way, you are now becoming involved in the solution, thus ingraining it completely into your playing.
Some Ways Of Practicing That Might Not Occur To You
- Slow Practice – While it seems counter productive at first, slow practice allows you to develop coordination. This coordination will aid you in performing the task faster.
- Repetitions – Not just repeating something over and over again, but repetitions where each time you play something it’s the same way every time. This, at first, is hard to do, and can become frustrating. For most students I use my “Three Times In A Row” rule. However at a certain point, you should be doing hundreds of repetitions over the course of your practice. Each repetition should be exactly how you want it sound/feel/play. These repetitions are done as slow and fast performances of a section.
- Play Less, Trouble Shoot More - While it may seem like a waste of time, taking time to understand the problem at hand will allow you to come up with a better solution. Playing something over and over again will not make it better unless you know what you want to change. Take a minute or two and think over the problem. Try to come up with a possible solution. If it works and you see improvement, continue to use it.
- Stop Playing Through The Whole Piece - You don’t need to play through the piece over and over again. This is not practicing. Focus on a single section to put your effort into.
- Reset Yourself – It sounds a bit odd, but sometimes when we practice and hit a wall, its like a computer that freezes up. There’s too much going on for us to understand. So sometimes it is best for us just to take a second or two, and reset our minds. Worry about a single issue, then when you have accomplished that, move on to the next.