Before you can do strategic practice, you need to answer this question: Why exactly are you practicing?
Because you have to, of course. Duh.
Yes, but the question is still, “Why?” The answer is important, because the practice you do must be tailored to get the results you want. Without knowing why you are practicing – the goal you want to achieve – your practice might be rather aimless and unfocused.
To put it another way, there is a reason you’re practicing. Maybe you’re trying to finish a piece or strengthen your technique. Maybe you have a lesson coming up or possibly even a performance. Whatever it is you’re trying do, there is a strategic way to accomplish it.
Of course, you don’t need to practice strategically, but unplanned practice tends to be repetitive, unrewarding, and even boring, not to mention unproductive.
Strategic practice, on the other hand, is focused and directional. It follows steps on a path toward your goal, whatever that goal is. It keeps you on track, prevents boredom, makes your practice time seem to fly by, and gets the job done.
Ready to try strategic practice?
I have found that there are three big “why’s” that people practice music. There are sub-categories or more specific versions of each of these, but I can say that virtually every reason I have ever heard for practicing can fit one of these three.
Music study is a wonderful way to stretch yourself personally, to learn a new discipline, to express yourself through music.
Strategic practice for this “why” must include technical work; if your fingers won’t do what you want, growth will be difficult. Also, since you will want to experience a variety of music, you will need a time frame for how long you will spend on a piece before you move on. Sight reading practice will help too. Regular lessons or coachings will help keep you accountable and inspire you with fresh ideas.
You may have a performance in the offing, or possibly just a lesson. Whatever the engagement is, you have a date on the calendar and you need to prepare your music.
Strategic practice for preparation will include balanced work between detail and big picture practice as well as practice to develop your control and stamina. Naturally, developing and deepening the expressive content of your playing will be a part as well. Depending on the situation, preview or “dress rehearsal” performances might be needed too.
At first glance, this may seem to be redundant, since playing is a part of both other reasons. Many students, however, insist that they just want to be able to play for their own enjoyment, so this is worthy of mention.
If this is your “why,” you will want to keep developing your technique so that you can play the music you want. You will need to regularly push pieces to the finish, so that they have the polish that will allow you to play them fluently. You will also need to systematically develop your repertoire of pieces that you can actually play; that is the heart of your “why.”
You may relate to one or to all of these. Your why will likely change back and forth over time. Sometimes one will be more important; sometimes another. For instance, when you have a performance on the horizon, that’s why you practice. Other times you will feel less driven, and you may just practice because you love it.
The most important thing is to know why you are practicing TODAY and suit your practice to your why.
So…why are you practicing today?