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Effective Practicing

Half an hour? 2 hours? 4 hours? How much is enough? Is there such a thing as practicing too much? When asked by one of his students on how much to practice, violinist Jascha Heifetz responded by saying “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.” Heifetz was also a firm believer of practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!”

This still leaves us with the question, how much should I practice? The answer is quite simple, it’s not about how much you practice, but rather the quality of your practice session. Most students tend to engage in mindless practice, where your body goes on autopilot while your brain goes something like this: “I wonder what’s for dinner? Ugh has it been 30 minutes already? My phone just buzzed, I wonder who texted me?” But what most don’t realize is that this autopilot mode is more detrimental to us than it is beneficial. The point of practicing is not to take up an allotted hour or more of your day. If that is the case then it is a waste of time or even worse. You are actually digging yourself a hole because this way of practicing only strengthens unwanted habits and errors. This makes it more difficult to correct these habits in the future.

But do not fret, there are ways to make your practicing more efficient and effective. Here are some steps to becoming a better musician:

1. Switch off all distractions – whether it be your phone, t.v or laptop. You need all your concentration

on your practice session.

2. Have a goal for each practice session before you start playing - just playing through your music isn't the same thing as practicing. Before you start, think: What do I want to accomplish today, ask your teacher for a few concrete goals to work towards before the next lesson.

3. Practice smarter, not harder – if something is not sounding the way you want it to, don’t keep aimlessly repeating it. Instead, force yourself to stop and think of why this section of your music isn’t sounding the way you want it to. Then THINK of ways you could that would bring you closer to your goal.

Last but not least

4. Take breaks – do your practicing in chunks of time, this makes sure that you’re always focused and refreshed. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.

After practicing for the day, it is very important to take a couple of minutes to truly acknowledge what you’ve accomplished in that session (even if you don’t feel it).

It’s a good idea to end your practice session with a song that you really enjoy playing, this will leave you with a sense of pride of accomplishment.

Practicing is about the bigger picture and as musicians it is very easy to lose sense of that bigger picture and get caught up in the imperfections. So, appreciate the things that sound better and for the things that don’t, it will come with time, given that you put in the work of course!

Happy Practicing

Gina Selvaggi

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