Practice Tips For Adults And Older Students
Start a piece of music slowly and work up to tempo (speed). Keep the piece smooth. Do not increase the tempo until the music is smooth and steady at the speed you are working at.
Some students work on the notes and chords in a piece first and then the rhythm. The problem is, if you practice this way you will still be playing a rhythm of a sort (after all rhythm is just sound occurring in time), but the rhythm you will be playing is the wrong one, which means that you will have to relearn the rhythm later. It is always harder to relearn than to learn. It is better to work on the rhythm first and then the notes and chords.
Break the music into small, manageable pieces. Work on the rhythm, then the notes, then the dynamics (loudness) and articulation (how the note is attacked), etc. On piano, work on the hands separately before putting them together. Work phrase by phrase, or even measure by measure, before going through the whole piece.
Never stop when practicing. If you stop while practicing, you are practicing stopping, and you will stop in performance. When playing a piece through, notice where you made a mistake. Do not stop. Go back to that measure or phrase to work on it after you have finished playing the piece to its completion. When you are happy with the measure or phrase in question, play the piece through again.
It is more effective to have many practice sessions that are shorter than it is to have longer practice sessions once or twice a week. In other words, you will get more out of practicing 15 to 20 minutes seven times a week than you will get out of a couple of one hour practice sessions a week.
Never suddenly increase your practice time by a large amount. This could lead to injury. Always increase your practice time slowly over a period of weeks.
For older students, never practice for more than 45 to 50 minutes straight. Take a five to ten minute break at least once an hour. Do not go to another hand-intensive activity like typing at the computer. Give your hands a good rest. Otherwise you risk overuse injuries. Do light stretching to warm up before practice and cool down afterwards. If you do this you can practice for hours comfortably.
Notice when you hit the point of diminishing returns. If you are tired or frustrated, sometimes it is best to put the instrument down, walk away for five or ten minutes, then return refreshed.
For guitar students, it is strongly recommended that you change your strings regularly. Old strings not only sound dead, but can actually prevent you from learning how to hear harmony in tune. The rust, gunk, and bumps on the surface of an old set of strings will change how the strings vibrate, making the harmonic overtones become more inharmonic, and thus will mis-train your ear.
I make a distinction between practicing and playing. Practicing is when you are working on lesson material. Playing is when you do whatever you want, such as playing favorite pieces, improvising, composing, etc. You need both in your musical life, but never short change practicing. Practicing the lesson material will give you the technique to play harder and more interesting pieces.
© 2015 Geoffrey Keith