What? How? How Long? When?
When it comes to practice, we need to ask ourselves what, how, how long, and when. While we may or may not be able to go over every single assignment in a practice session, we need to decide which assignment to focus on. Then we come up with a goal for this assignment. If the main problem is intonation, unquestionably we need to make that our priority and practice everything extremely slowly. Then we need to repeat the process until everything can be played at a relatively faster speed. This process will take anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour. Keep in mind that perfection is our standard, not time. The paragraph below will discuss this issue in depth. Lastly, we need to manage our daily schedule efficiently so that we can practice at least 1 hour per day. Practicing after lunch or dinner is good idea. Finding any 30 minute gap (between different activities) to practice is also efficient time management. All students are encouraged to create their daily schedules and stick to the plans.
Quality vs. Quantity
While it’s important to meet the 1 hour minimum practicing requirement, we also need to constantly check the quality of our practice. Practicing 1 hour incorrectly with bad intonation and posture is no better than not practicing at all. Good practicing is much like quality manufacturing. Increasing the quantity of a product will never improve its quality. We can only improve it by fixing design flaws or having better workmanship. So always ask the question, “am I doing this correctly” when we practice, especially when doing repetition exercises.
Run-through and sectional practice
Run-through may be enjoyable to listen to and seemingly easy to achieve. But without sectional practices, a run-through cannot sound fluidly and refined. The goal of sectional practices is to eliminate technical obstacles that disrupts the continuity of the playing. Practicing run-through with constant interruptions can develop into a bad performance habit in recitals and auditions.
Frustrations with obstacles and bad habits
Very often we’re repeatedly unable to clear certain obstacles in a passage of the music and become frustrated. Most of the time we don’t realize that through repetitions, our obsession with the old, non-working strategy start to form bad habits. MIT Professor Ann Graybiel explains how bad habit is formed and why it is hard to change. Habit is a process of forming a specific neural pathways in our brain. In order to change a habit, in this case perhaps we need to change our practice strategy. For example, stop practicing from the beginning of the music. Start at the trouble spot, then gradually add more music that precedes it. Keep adding until we can play a complete phrase or section.
Try to come up with your own structure of practicing and write it down. Set a goal for every practice session. Audio or video record your playing. Listen to reputable recordings and compare. Constantly check your lesson notes. Communicate with me and ask questions during the week. These are all effective ways to improve your practice plans. If you need some inspirations, please take a look at my simplified Practice Form and Practice Guide