How To (Really) Practice

Aug 23, 2022
Christopher Maloney, music educator and founder of Practice Warriors comedically explains how to practice a musical instrument.

What’s the one thing people tell you to do if you want to achieve awesome musical skills?  I’ll give you a hint: It’s the way you get to Carnegie Hall.  Ding ding ding!!  That’s right!  Practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

But do they ever tell you HOW to practice?  How about music teachers?  They should you something to work on for the week, and then they say what?  “Go home and make sure you practice!”.

Great, but how do you practice?  Is that crickets I hear?  Chirp Chirp!  I don’t think they’re going to help me. 

And yes, I have a whole membership site that is all about teaching people of any age group, playing any instrument with any experience, how to practice.  There are many tools to achieving high musical skills and frankly, when you get down to it, they’re the same tools for any musician.  

But I’m not here to promote my site (even though I just mentioned it…see what I did there?).  No.  I’m here to give you an example of what a REAL practice session should look like.  Of course there can be some variations to anything, but this breakdown will give you the structure you need to start to Practice Like The Pros.  Hey, that’s the tagline to my practice membership site Practice Warriors!  Did I mention I have a membership site??

Okay okay…I’ll get down to it!

First of all, let’s give our practicing a name.  Most people call it a ‘routine’.  I don’t like that word when used with practicing.  It’s sounds so…I don’t know…routine!  What do you call something you do regularly that brings you happiness and joy?  How about the word ‘ritual’?  Let’s call our practicing a 'Practice Ritual’!  That sounds much better, doesn’t it?  In fact, I’d like to get rid of the word ‘practice’ as well.  Lots of people have a negative connotation to that word as well.  I’m going to keep it though, since I have a website called Practice Warriors.  Have I told you about it?

All right I promise…that was the last time!

So you wanna practice, huh?  Let’s make sure you have everything ready first before you even think about making a sound.  Here we go!

1. Your Practice Space is chosen and completely set up.  Yep, if you haven't chosen your specific space in your home that is specifically used to practice, you can’t practice; not in a way that is truly consistent and efficient.  It doesn’t have to be a big space.  I can be a little corner of a room if needed.  But it’s got to be your own dedicated practice space.  Make sure you have it all set up in advance with a comfortable chair (that no one else can take out of the room), table, music stand and the other things you need.  If you don’t have that all set up, you can't proceed.  No way.  Make sure your space is totally set up and ready to go at all times.   

2.  Make sure all practicing essentials are purchased and acquired.  These are essential tools that are vital to your practicing, like a tuner, a timer, a metronome, any instrument-specific bits (strings, reeds, sticks, etc.)  If you haven’t acquired these essential goodies, you should do so before you can begin. 

3. Your topics have been decided on.  Don't start until you have decided what specific areas you are going to focus on.  Don't neglect this.  You want to work on the same topics/skills consistently.  You can't do that if you don't know what they are. If you are scattershot with your practicing, meaning if you practice various things and not stick to specific topics consistently, you’ll have a lot of trouble making meaningful progress. 

4. Your Practice Log is ready to go.  Yes!  Your bestest buddy to guide you along on your journey.  Don’t have a Practice Log?  For SHAME!!  How are you going to know what to practice today if you haven’t written down what you practiced yesterday?  The Practice Log is where you write down all of the important information about what you are working on.  This includes specific pages in your book, specific tempos you’re working at, specific scales you are playing, specific skills you are developing, etc.  Notice the common denominator here?  The word “specific”.  

5. Your Weekly Schedule completed for this week.  You want to know EXACTLY what time you'll practice for each specific day of the week.  If you don't schedule it, you won't do it!  Don’t think for one second that you’ll say to yourself “I think I’ll practice today”, and believe that you’ll actually do it.   Maybe you will; maybe you won’t.  But if you have it scheduled, you’ll most likely practice!

6. Review your motivations.  This goes back to an earlier blog post and something we exhaustively cover in the Practice Warriors Masterclass…why the hell are you learning music in the first place??  You want to remind yourself of WHY you must begin this process.  Why is learning music really important to you?  You want to remember all the positive associations you can make with practice music. You know that you are going to come up against frustrations and challenges during your lesson time. So, it might be nice to give yourself a little pep talk before you head out on your quest to be the best musician you can be.   

Now you may think “Man, that’s a LOT to do before I even practice!”.  Let me ask you this: Do you want to practice in a way that is effective and efficient or in a way that isn’t?  Here’s another question:  If you’re going to take the time out of your busy day to work hard practicing your instrument, do you want to waste time doing it incorrectly or save time and build life-long skills by doing it correctly?

Don’t bother answering…I kinda already knew your answers before I wrote them down!

The cool this is that, once you’ve gotten things I mentioned all ready to go, you don’t have to even think about them anymore.  You’ll already have your space set up with all your essential bits and your Practice Log.  You’ll know exactly when to practice and exactly what to practice, and you’ll give yourself a little pep talk before you start.  Easy Peasy!!  

Now get to work!

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