Practicing your instrument and learning new songs is one of the core responsibilities of a musician. As musicians and worshippers, we’re always trying to grow and develop our craft to not only play more skillfully, but to also be a better servant by excelling in the roles and tasks we’ve been assigned.
But … dedicating hours of our time throughout the week can be a difficult task! Especially when we’re trying to balance work, our social life, family time and many of the other activities that require our time and energy. On top of all that, practicing can sometimes feel like a chore that removes the excitement out of playing our instruments or rehearsing with our teams.
Practicing doesn’t have to be this way though! Maybe you love practicing and you have all the time in the world, or maybe you’re struggling to make the best use of your time when you finally do get a chance to practice. The good news is that MANY musicians struggle with these exact same things.
These 6 ways the best musicians practice will save you time and help you to work efficiently and purposefully.
1) Mark Your Calendar
This is probably the most important key to having successful practice sessions. It may seem, simple but this one small step is what separates the pros from the rest! With busy schedules and various commitments that take up our time, it is extremely easy to lose track of our day and then by the end, we realize we didn’t practice and now are left without any time.
Setting concrete times and committing to them already sets yourself up for success and allows your mind to relax instead of constantly thinking “how and when will I find time to do this”. The important thing to take away from this is to deliberately pick a time to practice (even if it’s only once a week) and stick to it.
2) Set Goals
The second most important thing goes hand in hand with marking your calendar and that is setting goals. Decide first what it is you need to learn, practice, or develop.
Setting specific times to practice won’t really help if there also isn’t a plan for that practice time. Depending on how much time you’ve set aside to practice will determine how much you can accomplish during that time. Taking a few moments to think through how to best spend your time will improve your practice time even before it starts.
Everyone’s practice time will look different, buts some great tips for creating goals are:
- Spread out the content you need to practice and don’t try to do too much in one sitting.
- Finding which parts of the songs/music will be the most difficult and prioritizing it first.
- Targeting weak points in your play-style, making sure to constantly learn new techniques and new ways of playing so you don’t fall into repetitive playing habits.
After deciding on what you need to practice, give each of those items a specific amount of time to spend working on them. This part of your plan doesn’t have to be rigid, but having a baseline will help keep things on track
3) Prepare Throughout the Day
Another great way to set yourself up for a great rehearsal is to familiarize yourself with what you need to practice during the day. This is especially helpful for those who have extremely busy schedules yet still need to find time to learn new songs. One of the best ways to do this is by listening to what you need to practice while driving, eating, or other semi-free time that allows you to split your attention.
Passively listening might seem like a waste of time but familiarity with new songs/content only comes from repeatedly immersing yourself into the music. For example, a 20 minute drive from your house to work is a great time to put the music you need to learn on in the background. You don’t have to focus extremely hard on the music, but when you come back to the music/song later in the day, you will have a sense of familiarity with the chord progressions, song structure, and lyrics.
This also extends to many other types of audio content that will help you develop as a musician. Things like podcasts, youtube series, music from musicians you’re trying to emulate, and interviews are all great ways to spend those free moments throughout the day learning and growing even before sitting down to practice.
4) Warm Up
Like with any activity such as running or working out, warming up before practicing is a great way get in the zone and get ourselves focused on what we’re trying to accomplish. Light playing, scales, and vocal exercises also give the muscles we’re going to use (such as our fingers, arms, legs, and vocal chords) a chance to warm up and will also help prevent straining and injuries.
One great way to warm up is by playing in the keys or style that you’ll be practicing in immediately after the warm up. If the song you’re going to be learning is in the key of B-flat, then playing scales or chords in the key of B-flat will prepare your mind better than playing your warm ups in your favorite, easier, keys. Spending even 5 minutes of your practice time warming up will make a huge difference!
5) Listen Actively
Passive listening was one of the tools used to prepare throughout the day. Active listening can happen during the actual practice and is a great skill to develop! If learning a new song, this goes beyond just hearing the chords and structure of the song and getting familiar with it. Some great ways to actively listen to the music you’re learning is:
- Try to pick out what your instrument/part is doing throughout the entire song, and not just during the parts where it stands out.
- Pick out what other instruments are doing and how all the instruments fit together as a whole.
- Quickly start to memorize the chord progressions, lyrics, and other things that stand out in the music that might be easily missed.
It’s important to really focus in when listening and absorbing new music. Minimize distractions as much as possible when actively listening. This can sometimes be hard for musicians since it’s very easy to begin to enjoy the music we’re listening to and leisurely listen, losing our focus.
The more time you spend picking out parts while listening, the easier it gets. Eventually you’ll get to a point where you CAN’T listen to music without “deconstructing” it in your head! The quicker you can pick out parts, the more time you can spend practicing how to play them.
6) Focus the Hard Parts First
When learning new music and practicing, it can become very easy to slip into the habit of avoiding difficult sections in favor of parts that are either easier or more fun to play. One of the best ways to avoid this is to tackle the hardest stuff right off the bat!
Your mind is fresh and those hard parts aren’t going to get any easier unless you start chipping away at them little by little. Focusing on the bigger tasks and harder parts will leave you feeling accomplished at the end of your practice session.
Another important reason to focus the harder parts first, is to build familiarity. It might take an entire week of repeatedly practicing one specific section over and over for it to finally “click” and become permanently learned.
If you wait until the last second to work on these difficult parts, you’ll end up stressed and the end result won’t be high quality. One great way to use this practically is by “bookending” your practice time with the hard stuff. Start off your practice learning something difficult and then at the end, recap that part again to help retain it.
Everyone learns differently, so spending time practicing and trying new techniques is the only way to really discover what works best for you! Focusing on these 6 practice tips will give you an edge and help you practice efficiently. The thought of practicing new things doesn’t have to be a stressful and daunting task. These tested methods have helped myself and others practice quicker and more effectively, and will give you more time at the end of the day to spend time doing the things you love!
How do you spend your practice time? What tips can you share? Tell us in the comments below!
You may also be interested in these posts:
- Mastering Your Fretboard & Transposing Lead Guitar
- 5 Tips for Practicing Difficult Parts
- 8 Qualities Our Worship Should Possess
- Music Theory 101
- Songwriting with Cody Carnes