Practice Makes Permanent: How to Practice Well
Many of us have heard the phrase "practice makes perfect." While musicians and performers do want to perfect their song, performance, or technique, I believe that is only possible by practicing well and purposefully. We want to make the most of our practice time because practice makes permanent, not perfect. What we practice is what we will remember. Here are six tips to help make your (or your child's) practice time successful and purposeful.
1. Set a Goal
When you start your practice, set a goal to accomplish in that practice session. When practicing a difficult or long song, it can sometimes feel like you are not getting any closer to perfecting the song. However, setting a small goal can keep you motivated by seeing how you are progressing. Goals could be perfecting a particular measure, playing the song at a certain tempo, adding dynamics or expression, etc.
2. Pay Attention to the First Note of the Song.
The first note of a song is also important because it shows us where to begin. After the first note, we can use intervals to determine where the song goes next, but playing the wrong first note may result in playing in the wrong octave, hand position, or key. Being sure of the starting note and the best way to play that note will help the student read the rest of the notes correctly.
3. Know the Key Signature.
The key signature tells us how to count and stay on rhythm throughout the song, and it also tells us the key in which to play the song. Rhythm is the foundation of music, and, often, specific rhythms are necessary to make the song sound the way we want it to sound. From the very beginning of playing a song, attempt to keep a steady beat. If unable to keep the beat steady, try using a metronome or slowing down the tempo until the notes and rhythm are mastered. Additionally, the key signature tells us the key in which to play that piece. This is important to know because it will determine if there are any added sharps or flats that we need to play. These sharps and flats can make a night and day difference in the way a song sounds.
4. Notice the Tempo Mark.
The tempo mark often denotes the speed in which to play or some other form of expression such as "enthusiastically" or "like a march." The tempo mark is there to help us understand the feeling of the song. By looking at the tempo mark, one can understand the expressions needed in order to play well. This is important because you would not play a lullaby the same way that you would play a military march or a polka.
5. Look for Patterns in the Music's Melody and Harmony.
Learning to look for patterns can be one of the most helpful things a musician can do when reading music. Knowing the patterns of the song's melody will allow you to recognize patterns instead of reading each individual note, and this can help you read music faster and have a better understanding of it. Examples of patterns in sheet music would be scales, triads, intervals, chords, or sections of the song that repeat.
6. Hone in on the difficult passages of the song.
You do not always have to play a song all the way through, and this is especially true if there are parts of the song that are difficult or you just cannot seem to play correctly. When playing through the song, notice the hard parts and practice those sections more than the rest of the song. If necessary, take it one measure or interval at a time in order to make those passages easier.
The way a student practices will directly impact their musical growth, understanding, and skill; and I hope these six tips will help you maximize your practice time.
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