They say that perfect practice makes perfect. But are we all looking for “perfect?”
For most of us, we are simply aiming for “better.” It would just be nice to know that we are working on the right things in the right way.
We are a culture obsessed with productivity - getting more done, developing systems, employing strategies, hacking our schedules. But music practice is less of a science and more like our art, requiring creativity, imagination and ingenuity. We need to manage the learning process without sacrificing our connection to the music itself.
A perfect practice routine is like eating healthy foods which nourish us, helping us grow and develop in every way. The best practice routines nurture three distinct entities within each of us: the technician, the musician and the creative spirit.
The technician is the part of us responsible for doing the work. It’s about more than technique, though. It’s about playing the right notes and rhythms. The technician knows that everything needs to be correct and well-played, and is prepared to do the repetitions required to make that happen.
The musician is our craftsman side, the part of us that wants to dive deep into the elements of music. Our musicianship skills are the tools we use to play expressively and with understanding. Sharpening our musicianship skills like note reading and basic music theory help us to learn quickly and play confidently.
Knowing what you’re doing and doing it well only make part of the practice equation. If your practice isn’t feeding your creative spirit, you will find it difficult to sustain your focus as you practice. This is where passion meets productivity.
Notice that I haven’t given you lists of exercises and etudes or books to read. I haven’t even mentioned pieces you should learn or a number of minutes you should practice. That’s because I believe that practice isn’t a numbers game or set of studies. I can give you (and have in other posts) recommendations for all of those things, but today I‘d like to suggest another approach.
There are only two specific ingredients to add to the mix above to make any practice routine perfect: clarity and consistency.
First, you must have clarity about what you are trying to accomplish in your music study overall and in your practice each day. Commit your musical goals and dreams to paper; writing them down will help you to stay focused and on track. But don’t stop with the big goals. Write down what you want to accomplish in each practice session. This is the number one way to be certain you are using your practice time wisely and well.
Also, you must stay clear about why you are pursuing these goals. When the practice gets difficult, onerous or tedious, your inner motivation will sustain you. Get clear about your “why.”
Finally, the perfect practice routine is consistent. Again, think of it like nutrition. Your body wants regular meals each day to grow healthy and strong. Your music needs regular practice each day to make it beautiful in the same way.
Let’s summarize. I have suggested that your perfect practice routine should be:
I think your perfect practice routine should include:
Can you take it from there?