Practice Better (Vol. 3): Playing vs Practicing

This is the third post in my 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 third big idea:

 

"Playing and Practicing are two different things"

Just because you are sitting down with your guitar doesn't mean that you are practicing.  You could be learning a piece.  You could be writing a song.  You could be fooling around playing nonsensical chords and phrases (also commonly referred to as Jazz).  You could even just be admiring the feel of the guitar as you strum the open strings.  There are so many things that you can be doing with a guitar, and without defining what your practice actually is you cannot effectively practice.

The best way to make sure that you are actually practicing when you sit down to practice is to write down a plan for what you will achieve during the session.  By writing down a plan, you will be defining what practice will look like for you during that practice session.  I like to write down what exercise I will be working on, what that exercise is meant to develop, and how much time I will spend on that exercise.  This way, I have a list of exercises to work on and feel good about after I check them all off as done for the day.  After each exercise is finished, I write a quick 1-2 sentence note about how the exercise felt and any particular things I noticed that I may be doing well or that I may need to work on.  If I'm ever struggling with a specific exercise, I can look back in my practice notes and see if I had written down any helpful insights from previous sessions to help myself.

During practice, you will also have different goals than when you are playing.  When you are playing (for yourself or for an audience), you keep your focus on the music and how it sounds and feels, making sure that the sound is pleasant.  When you are practicing, you are focusing on the motion that you are making and how that motion contributes to creating specific sounds.  When you play music, you generally play through an entire piece, whereas when you practice a piece, you focus on short specific passages to perfect them.  Retrospectively, after you play, you ask yourself, "How was that performance?"  Whereas when you practice, you ask yourself, "Am I actually getting better at my instrument over time?"

The big takeaway from this third big idea is that you need to be honest with yourself and with your intentions when you sit down with your instrument.  It's okay to spend time playing whatever comes to mind in a free and unplanned manner, but you need to recognize that when you play in such a manner, you are not practicing.  You might get better over time using an unplanned approach to your instrument, but it is guaranteed that it will take you longer than if you planned out your practices intentionally.

How else are playing and practicing different?  Comment below!

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