Many people have had exposure and some experience to playing an instrument. Sometimes it was in the school band, other times they had a sibling who played and as a result they too dabbled in music, yet other times their parents invested in some lessons for them while they were younger. Regardless of where or when they played these people tell me the same thing after a performance… “I wish I could play like that.” None of this is said to brag but to point out that people appreciate what I am able to do on the piano. What a lot of people never think about when listening to musicians who are in complete control of their instrument is that it’s because of one thing, PRACTICE. Yes practice, that word we hated in school, the word our coaches used to sling around every 5 seconds, the word we read in interviews of athletes and musicians. While I may be able to sit down today and a pick up a basic song in minutes there was a time I couldn’t. There were nights I’d get off work at 10, grab something to eat from whatever spot was still open and spend the next 3-4 hours stuck on the piano. However, what we are not told is that it takes ORGANIZED practice. I can improve on something in 5 minutes just by having a schedule and a plan before I sit down to play. Too often we consider it a good practice when we sit down and noodle around on the things we already know or learn the easy parts of a new song. Improvement comes when we stop and focus on our weaknesses and struggles. If my left hand is weak it won’t improve much, if at all, until I stop and focus on strengthening that hand. Until I spend time focusing on the chords to the bridge of a song I find difficult I’ll never learn those chords, and as a result, will never entirely know the song. So here’s the “trick”, are you ready? Can you handle it? The trick is to have a practice routine! Before you start rolling your eyes and shaking your head let me explain what I mean. Your practices should be consistent, precise, efficient and most of all effective.
If you have 1 hour to spend practicing this is a breakdown example:
10 min: Scales
10 min: Chord Progressions
20 mins: Song 1
20 mins: Song 2
Playing an instrument is being able to reproduce the sounds and movements you want when you want to. The only way to become proficient in doing that is by going over them consistently. Growing up I learned grandma’s phone number by dialing it on a regular basis. This is with anything. Scales are learned through consistency, lyrics are learned through consistency, songs are memorized through consistency and I could go on. Practicing something once or twice using a different method each time then not coming back to it again for 3 months will get you absolutely nowhere! Going over it regularly whether that’s 7 days a week, every other day or once a week will yield you much better and quicker results.
When you mess up, stop! During practice when you mess up you need to stop at that point and start over. The point of practice is to learn to get it right not teach yourself to simply ignore all your mistakes. Whenever you gloss over your practice errors you train yourself to perform that part wrong. To be precise we have to start slow. During the difficult sections go slow, one note at at time, one chord at a time, or whatever breakdown works for you. Then when you can play it well at a slow speed it up some. After you’ve gotten that down speed it up some more and continue in this method until you finally reach full speed. By doing it this way I can guarantee your performances will become much cleaner, smoother and satisfying.
Time is precious. Most of us have a job, a family, various other responsibilities and limited free time. With that limited time we have to be able to have a good practice. This is where efficiency plays in. It’s almost a waste of time to sit down to “practice” without an actual practice plan. What good does it really do if we haven’t thought about what we plan to do beforehand. Plus how much time do we have to spend practicing? 15 minutes is a whole lot different from 2 hours. 15 minutes I might only be able to run over the songs for my next gig. With 2 hours I can warm up with scales, go over a new chord progression, learn a new song and still have time to play through the rest of the songs for my next show.
If the above 3 steps have been followed the result will be tremendous. No more not understanding a key, no more forgetting scales and no more going to bed realizing you had wasted the hour you spent “practicing” because you ended up just jamming with the record. In no time you’ll be the person that everybody comes up to and treats like a superstar after each show. When they ask how you do it the answer will be simple…practice.