SCHOOL’S OUT BUT SOON PRACTICE IS ABOUT TO BE IN
By Amy Cassaniti
As rocker Alice Cooper so memorably sang in 1972, “school’s out for summer.” However, Alice Cooper was mistaken when he followed up with “school’s out forever.” School is not out forever. In fact, the beginning of the school year is nearly here. For many music students, instruments have been quite lonely and unloved during vacation months. But all that is about to change. With the start of the school year, music lessons during and after the school day begin again in earnest. Music instruction only yields results if you regularly practice. Here are four suggestions for re-establishing (or creating) a practice routine.
SET ASIDE A SPECIFIC, DEDICATED SPACE FOR PRACTICE
Whether we realize it on a conscious level or not, we are very sensitive to our surroundings. Walk into a kitchen, and you may experience hunger. Open the door to a library, and you immediately lower your voice to a whisper. Likewise, you want to train your mind and body that upon seeing a music stand and practice books, it’s time for music. Choose a specific space in your home where you set up your music stand and music materials on a consistent basis. If, due to space, you have to take your stand, music, and instrument down after your practice, just make sure that you always return to this area for practice. You are training yourself to recognize that when you are physically in this space, your focus is on your instrument and your practice.
CLEAN AND ORGANIZE YOUR SPACE
If you have missed practice sessions over the summer, chances are that your music materials need a little attention. Dust your music stand, properly clean your instrument, and look over your music materials. Now is the time to organize your practice books and clean out any extra notes or materials you no longer need. Are you missing practice materials? Do you need additional or new accessories for your instrument? Pull together all items you use for a practice session before you begin. Nothing ruins a practice session faster than realizing that you need additional reeds or rosin or valve oil and you don’t have these items. Set up your space properly, and you will be ready to effectively use your time.
LESS IS MORE
The brain and body need repetition. You should practice EVERY day. Yes, EVERY day. Studies have shown that you will progress much faster with your instrument if you practice at least 30 minutes a day rather than spend one day practicing 3 ½ hours. First, practicing 3 ½ hours straight through is unrealistic. You likely will not have the physical stamina for such a long session. Additionally, it’s mentally exhausting. And if you are relatively new to your instrument, you won’t have enough material to work on. Muscle memory happens in slow, consistent increments. Set a timer, focus fully, and be consistent every day, and you will be amazed how a little bit each day adds up.
Upon returning to regular practice, it’s important to make the first few sessions of practice fun. Scales, finger positions, bow technique, proper embouchure are critical to mastering an instrument, but they can also be a bit tedious. Your first few sessions back at regular practice are about reminding yourself why you play your instrument and what you like about it. Do a bit of warm up and then indulge yourself by playing pieces you enjoy. The point is not to drill down to make it perfect. The point is joy. You have a lifetime to perfect your skills. Taking a few practice sessions to simply enjoy yourself is time well spent.