How to Practise

HOW TO PRACTISE

Practise is the worst. There’s just so many other, easier ways to spend your time. Unfortunately, the only way to progress is to put in the hours and get it done. 

It might be reassuring to know that every musician has had to practise, and most likely still practises a lot. The exceptional musician will practise daily. 

Thankfully there ARE ways to make practise less painful.

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1. Dedicate time.

The same as listening, if you don’t set aside dedicated practise time, you’ll find something else to do. The first step to easier practise is setting aside time in advance and sticking to it. Try to plan a week ahead and block out the time in your diary or calendar.

Be realistic; don’t dedicate three hours on a Sunday evening when you know you’ll be the least motivated. Choose times when you know you’ll be up for it. 

2. Psych yourself up.

Get pumped! Listen to some awesome music, imagine yourself shredding with ease. Focus on the end goal and picture yourself there. Imagine how great it will feel once your ability has caught up with your ambition. Before you practise, get your mind in the right place to put in some hard work.

3. Choose your environment.

Practising drums in the kitchen at dinner time isn’t ideal. You need a safe, quiet place that allows you to focus. Somewhere you’re not inconveniencing others or getting distracted. Get creative. Why not find a park and practise outdoors? Book a dedicated, sound-proof studio. If you’re a singer, why not do your warm-up while in the shower? (This is actually a legitimate technique for singers, the humid air moistens and warms up your vocal chords). 

4. Remove distractions.

Unless you need it to practise, turn off your phone. No TV or Netflix. Put the dog outside. Isolate yourself. Sometimes it’s good to hire a rehearsal space so you can make noise without anyone hearing you. The less things competing for your attention, the more attention you’ll dedicate to your instrument.

5. Focus on why you’re doing it.

When that sinking dread washes over you indicating it’s time for practise, try to reinforce why it is that you’re doing this. It’s not for the privilege of practising or the torment of needing to practise; it’s because you want to be better. Imagine yourself performing for people, or nailing a take in the studio. Remember why you’re doing this in the first place.

6. Practise what you enjoy.

Scales, rudiments and techniques are important to grasp, but stop before you’re slamming your head against a wall, and try to find something you enjoy practising. We talked about imitation in the previous chapter, so put it to work. Find a song you love and work on it until you can play it perfectly. Even if you’re only at the nursery rhyme level. Make it cool, keep it fun.

7. Make it a game.

How fast can you play all your scales perfectly? Can you play them with the other hand? In how many different configurations can you arrange the basic rudiments? How high or low can you sing? Time yourself, test yourself, push yourself. Once you’ve achieved a goal, move to the next level.  

8. Divide your time.

Let’s say you’ve got 30 minutes each day to practise. Great. For a 30 minute session I recommend a 5 minute warm-up, 10 minutes working on foundation techniques like scales or rudiments, and 15 minutes of imitation or jam-time. However much time you have, always allocate half of it to just having fun. If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re more likely to keep it up. 

9. Often and little.

Marathon practise sessions are great if you have the time and inclination, but it’s easy to burn out, get frustrated, and not touch your instrument for another week. By far the most effective way to practise is in lots of short sessions. Especially when you are a beginner and have limited skill, short sessions will keep morale high and cement the lessons in your memory. Aim for a 20 minute practise every day. 

10. Always tapping.

The most important advice my first drum teacher gave me was to never stop tapping. For other people it can be irritating, sometimes infuriating, but it’s effectively allowed me to practise wherever I am and whenever I like, which is not easy for a drummer! This principle applies to other instruments as well. Practise fingering techniques on table-tops, recite exercises in your mind, sing your sentences. Get creative!

11. Don’t skip.

It’s ok to miss a practise session once or twice if you can’t avoid it, but skip practises too often and you’re in the habit of missing practises. Then you’re in the habit of not practising and you’ll stagnate. If you skip a practise, make it up when you can. If you’re skipping practise all the time, you need to decide if you really want to be doing this.

Essentially it’s all in your mind. Overcome procrastination, laziness and frustration by employing these methods to your practise sessions. Watch your enthusiasm skyrocket, and your skill progress.

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