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andrewSomething I’m seeing frequently among people I’m teaching, or even those I’m judging or observing, is a lack of what I would consider critical analysis when practicing.  I feel like some people go home and play something a number of times (for some a few, for others many) and call that practice.  The problem with that is that it has only perpetuated any problems in the playing and not actually improved anything other than maybe having the piece better memorized … but still, memorized incorrectly.

It all stems back to the old but inaccurate adage that “practice makes perfect” … or more accurately “practice makes permanent” or the other variation “only perfect practice makes perfect.”  These aren’t new corrections, as I have bandspeople and individual player regurgitate them back to me all the time.  What I honestly think is that not enough of those people really know what they mean.  What is a “perfect practice”?

In order to practice effectively, the goal must be to improve one’s ability to accurately execute the assignment (whether it is a technique, an exercise, a phrase, a piece of music, or a selection of musical pieces) better than the last time you played it.  Many players seem – in my observation – to often approach this concept by repeating something over and over.  They’re about half right, and are only going to see about half the progress.  The other half is being critical about what is going wrong from repetition to repetition, and of course what is also going right (so it’s not all doom and gloom).  But it is this constant analysis that leads to improvement, not just the repetitions themselves.

How about we start a new, incredibly verbose, but far more appropriate version of the old adage:

PRACTICE time spent analyzing, correcting, and improving one’s technique, timing, execution, expression, and overall musicality, to such an extent that at the end of the practice session the item or items being worked on are detectably better than they were before, MAKES a musician who can be increasingly confident in their playing and will likely produce a better quality musical product on a more consistent basis and realizes that no matter how good one gets, no matter how much time invested, that there really is no such thing as PERFECT, and so every time one picks up one’s instrument, one should understand that it is always an opportunity to be better than the last time.

There is really no way to effectively summarize that in some cute saying … so let’s not try!!

Old Practice Method Checklist:

  • played all the music in my folder all the way through once or twice
  • repeated the hard parts a bunch of times and feel better about them
  • went to band rehearsal or individual lesson and still wasn’t good enough
  • tried to figure out why my hours of practice aren’t making me better

New Practice Method Checklist:

  • analyzed every aspect of my playing at all times while practicing and took notes
  • corrected the fundamental shortcomings at the root of any playing failure
  • used repetition not to fix but to lock in the improvements I made
  • made positive developments on the items I was working on and felt more confident
  • realized I’m going to have to do this every time I practice from now on 🙂

Sidenote If you happen to be one of those folks who think going to your lesson or band’s rehearsal is the time when improvements are made … I need to write another article for you about the difference between practice and rehearsal … but maybe just adopt the above and that’ll take care of itself when you realize you need to practice every single day in order to be ready for your lesson or rehearsal.

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