This is the first post in my new short series of articles on how to PRACTICE BETTER. I will be going through the 7 Big Ideas from Tom Heany's book First, Learn To Practice, and sharing my thoughts. I highly recommend everyone pick up a copy of this book. As of right now, Kindle download versions of the book are just under $5. It's a quick read and has great wisdom within its pages on how to approach and design your practice routines to get the most out of them. Without further ado, I give you Heany's first big idea:
"If you're not enjoying your practicing, change it until you are."
This idea is fairly simple. If you're not enjoying your practice routine, you're not going to practice consistently and effectively, and as you start to grudge practice, you will start to skip practice sessions, ultimately slowing your progress. So in order to become a better player, you need to learn how to approach and structure your practice so that you enjoy it.
We often think of practicing as a chore. We have a list of exercises we have to get through, and often times, they're not very fun. Running through scales, playing the same short phrase slowly over and over again to a metronome...these aren't activities we think of as exciting. If we're not enjoying our practices, below are just a few things we can change:
- We can change the exercises themselves. If you don't like practicing strumming to a metronome because it feels too robotic, practice strumming to a backing track on youtube. Be careful though--changing an exercise could make it less effective. The only way to get better at strumming is to practice strumming exercises. The only way to get better at bending is to practice bending your notes. And you won't get any better at strumming if you change your strumming exercises to be alternate picking exercises. The most effective exercises are generally very "dry", and usually the skill you need to practice most is the skill that feels hardest and least enjoyable to you. You sit there, strumming the pattern you are learning very slowly, not feeling very musical or inspired, grinding away at it, and sometimes that's what you need to do. You don't always get to rock out during exercises and effective practice always requires disciplined focus.
- We can change how we mentally approach our practice. This doesn't require any time on your instrument--it requires some quiet time on your own to be honest with yourself and to truly look inside and understand why you are choosing to practice your instrument. Your practices will never last if you approach them with the mindset of "I have to do these exercises so I can play better." That's not sustainable. You will quickly get bored and discouraged. But if you take some time to understand what attracts you to your instrument, and to music in general, you can use that understanding to push yourself through difficult practice sessions. If you believe music makes you feel free, you can approach a difficult practice with the mindset of "I have to do these exercises, and even though they are difficult now, if I continue practicing, they will allow me to feel more free when I play my instrument." Understanding yourself will allow you to approach difficult practice sessions and power through them effectively.
- We can change when we practice. If you always practice at night, after a long day of work, you're probably tired with depleted levels of focus and motivation, leading to an ineffective and painful practice. Try practicing early in the morning before work, when you have just woken up, showered, had a cup of coffee and feel fully energized. The energy that you bring into your practice matters and something as simple as changing what time of the day you practice can help you tap into a different level of energy.
Overall, you need to make sure that you are not dreading your practice sessions. If you find yourself skipping your practice sessions, or cutting them short, take some time to think about what you don't enjoy about your practice, and then think of ways you can change your practice so that you start to enjoy it again.
What are some other ways you can change your practice so that you enjoy it more?