Organizing Your Practice Life
It was actually quite traumatic. I opened the door, and realized I couldn't open the door all the way. What lay before me was worthy of a photo, and I sent it along with a text to my wife. There was no floor to be seen, as it was COMPLETELY covered with my son's clothes, shoes, towels, books, etc. I took note that there was hardly anything put on shelves. Undoubtedly, this boy is in need of an organizational strategy!
A couple of hours later, I found myself once again working with a piano student in my Wichita studio. My student was having difficulty, and I asked that age old question, "How much did you practice this week?" Surprisingly, the student stated that they had indeed practiced the prescribed amount of time during the previous week. I say "surprisingly" because the typical piano or bass student I teach would tell me that he/she "was too busy", "didn't have time", "was sick", etc.
For those folks, I try to offer (without lecturing too much) the simple suggestion that they need to organize their life in such a way that practice is part of their normal daily routine. Perhaps one of my favorite ways of conveying this has been likening it to skipping their teeth brushing routine.... "now certainly you wouldn't skip brushing your teeth!" Now that I have kids, I may need to revamp that approach..... I'm pretty sure my children wouldn't mind skipping the daily dental care. Whatever my next analogy is to be, it needs to convey one simple thought: If you skip practicing your piano or bass, you should feel as if something is missing in your life. Much like that belt that my son couldn't find in his quagmire this morning.
Returning to the student currently on the bench, you remember, the one who has been practicing daily? With a little questioning about those practice sessions, I ascertained that he "played the piece through" several times each day. Did you know that you can practice a mistake, convince yourself that it is correct, and become really skilled in playing said mistake? It happens all the time.
An organized practice session will typically start with scale work, or a technical study like Hanon for pianists, or Simandl for bassists. Long tones are invaluable for the bassists at the beginning of their practice sessions.These are great for getting in the zone, warming up the fingers and feeling an immediate sense of accomplishment. Then we move on to our pieces. We do not play them x number of times and say we've practiced and walk away. Nor do we fixate on a clock and wait for x number of minutes to lapse.
Try playing first with "big ears", listening for that thing that doesn't sound correct. Lots of times, where there's smoke, there's fire. Really examine that spot carefully and make absolutely sure you are correct with notes, rhythm, fingering (for starters). By all means, do not plow through that section and convince yourself that "it just sounds weird". Once you figure out the error, apply corrective action, and play the passage at least 5 times in a row correctly. I like to say that this proves you are not "lucky", it takes definite skill to play it 5 times in a row correctly. Plug the corrected spot back into the piece and then proceed to find other rough spots to work out.
End your practice session with some improvisation, or just messing around.....have fun! Play an old favorite finished piece. For kicks, see if you can make it better..... no piece is really ever "finished".
Finding practice time is now and always has been a major stumbling block in music study. When we find the time, it is important to use that time efficiently. Organizing those sessions will make practice time more efficient.
David James teaches piano and bass lessons at his studio in Wichita, KS .... aptly named the David James Piano and Bass Studio. "Like" his studio page on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, check out his website at www.djpianobass.com.
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About the Author
David James teaches piano and bass lessons at his studio...aptly named David James Piano and Bass Studio in Wichita, KS.