5 Ways to Spruce Up Your Practice Routine

Practice.

Just the distant sound of the word is enough to strike fear in the hearts of men. What a drag, right?

Keeping a productive practice routine going for your instrument(s) can be one of the most difficult things for a musician, especially since most of us are easily distracted — which is one reason you found this blog post. Shouldn’t you be playing?

I digress…

Here are a few ways you can shake off the laziness and get back to what you love: becoming a better player!

1. Make It Musical

There’s no question that practicing rudimentary things like scales and arpeggios is one of the most beneficial things for your technique. But some would submit that it’s also one of the most boring ways to spend valuable practice time. If you happen to fall into that category, ask yourself this. What are you doing to make it musical? If the goal is ultimately to make music, then shouldn’t you also be practicing music?

Take the C major scale for instance. A staple of theory and building-block practice, this is often one of the first things you learn how to play. Like any major scale, it’s a pleasant set of intervals with built in musicality. But rather than just running the scale like a robot on auto-accelerate, try playing like a human. Instead of focusing purely on technique, focus on phrasing, dynamics, articulation, even alternating different rhythms. There are more ways to play a scale than I could get in to in a short post, but my point is this. If it doesn’t sound like music, it’s not because there’s no music in it — you’re just not looking for it.

2. Get Inspired

If you plan to practice your instrument for thirty minutes, take the first five minutes and youtube your favorite player. Focus on something he does well, and then work on that when it’s your turn. You will always get out of your instrument whatever you put into it, so if your goal is to work up an insane double-thumb tapping back-flip harmonic, take it off of your to-do list, and just do it. You might surprise yourself. A little bit of inspiration can keep you motivated while you try something that you think is out of your realm of capability.

3. Learn Music That You Love

It can be tempting to learn a piece of music as a status symbol, or a social benchmark among your musician friends. Chances are whatever will impress your buddies is not the same stuff that you’d like to be playing. Forget about what you think you should be learning, and just pick that one tune that you’ve had on repeat for the last 6 days. However easy or challenging it is, learn it. Nothing is more gratifying than loving the sound that’s coming out of your instrument. And if a certain song causes you to spend more time with your instrument, it couldn’t possibly be a bad thing, right?

4. Practice Mentally

Many musicians could benefit from using visualization in the same way that athletes do: Running through your music without touching your instrument could prove very useful. Try bringing your music along with you (either on paper or a mobile device) when you know you’ll have some downtime, such as during a car or train ride, and read through the piece silently. If it’s a new piece, this could also be an effective way to familiarize yourself with the music, or just get a little more pumped about it. Preparation is always a good thing. Just ask Dr. Evil.

5. Make It Fun

There is a lot to be said about making ordinary tasks funner by implementing things like rewards, extra challenges and small goals. Plan your practice time on paper with clear, attainable goals. Try to get through the first 16 bars of that new piece mistake-free, or reach a new tempo on a finger exercise. Each time you achieve a goal, reward yourself with something small, like a snack or a short break. People in every line of work use this same type of process to push the limits of productivity, and it really works.

Also, quit reading blogs on how to be a better musician. 🙂 Go play your instrument. Embrace your mistakes, and look forward to the times that they are absent. It all amounts to you getting better.

Happy practicing!

John

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