The Mental Side of Practice

April 22, 2015


One of the most important things that I try to do as a teacher isn't just teaching the material that a student and I may be going over, but also how to approach these things when I'm not there. 

The fact of the matter is that I'm only with a student for half an hour out of every week, so I need to try and instill ideas that can help them approach practicing on their own. I always like to tell people the amount of time you practice is absolutely important, but in my opinion, not nearly as important as how you practice. 

Practice methodologies are a very important thing for me, so I'll be making plenty of pretty detailed blogs in the future about techniques that I've come across. For now, I'll give a quick run through of the basic ideas of effective practicing that I start students of all ages at.

Identifying Weaknesses-  This is the starting point. Once we sit back and figure out what exactly it is that we need to work on, we'll know how to strategize accordingly. You'd be surprised how many people don't do this naturally though. Many just sit down with a piece or technique and just hammer away at it for a given amount of time, hoping that it will soon be perfect. Well, what parts of it aren't perfect yet? What parts are you doing well on? These two questions are what I always ask students when they get done playing something for me, and it really helps identify where they've grown, as well as where they have some more growing to do. Ask yourself these questions when you practice on your own as well.

Planning and Strategizing- This is where you can really start using your time as effectively as possible.  Let's face it, even if we wanted to, most of us don't have hours and hours a day to practice. Because of this, making time as effective as possible is outrageously important. Take those weaknesses that you had identified and come up with a clear cut strategy on how to approach them. Really plan it out. How much time are you going to put into it? How are you going to split that time up throughout the week? The more clearly defined your goals are, the better your practice sessions will be. 

Evaluation- This is sort of like starting back at the beginning again, but with more knowledge than you had before. After a practice session, don't just pack up your instrument and then go and restart your day. Take a minute or so and evaluate how that session was. Did you make progress? If so, on what?

Experimentation- After you've tried out your plan and evaluated how it worked, see if there's some things you can do to tweak what you were doing to make things go even more smoothly. Again, I'll be giving a bunch of ideas through this blog., but every musician has to go through an experimentation process with their practicing. Things that work for some, may not for others. If you're a serious nerd such as myself, I would recommend actually keeping logs to help quantify some of these things to take some guess work out.

All of these seems like a lot of hassle, but thinking these things through can honestly only add another five minutes to your week and yield much more bang for your practicing buck. I would say the vast majority of musicians don't practice this way, but the percentage of "the greats" that do this is pretty high. That seems like a strong indicator to me. 

For more ideas on experimenting and personalizing practice methods, subscribe to the Falls Music Newsletter here, or follow us on social media!


Happy Practicing!

Mike Lowden
Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner 


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