Now that you are committed to practicing for your music lesson, you will invariably come upon challenges and frustrations. It is important to know how to attack the challenges you will face so that you minimize the level of frustration they will cause. Everyone faces challenges; beginners and professionals alike. They are unavoidable so let’s talk about how to handle some of the difficult things that you are going to encounter. You seem shy about sharing the challenges you face so I’ll begin with some that I have had to deal with over the years.
Sometimes the most difficult part of practicing is just getting started. You can come up with a bunch of excuses which you’ll later regret or you can just sit down with your instrument and begin to play. Find a quiet time when you are not too tired; when you don’t anticipate distractions; when you can relax and focus on the task at hand. You might even have to try practicing at several different times of day to determine what works best with your current schedule. It is important to remain open to adjust that schedule over time. When I was younger mornings worked best. Later I found that I focused better in the early evenings. Now I do best late at night. When there were children living at home I liked practicing in short spurts, between doing other things. The idea is to play as much as you can and to find a way to incorporate playing music into your daily life.
Before I go any further, we need to discuss instrument tuning. If you play an instrument that needs frequent tuning, like all of the string instruments, that has to be your first step. Practicing on an out of tune instrument is unproductive. Learning to tune by ear is an important skill but it can take time to develop. Before you are comfortable with your ability to tune by ear, use an instrument tuner at the beginning of every practice session. They are inexpensive, battery operated devices that are also available as apps. All are easy to use but worth bringing to your lesson so that your teacher can show you how to safely tune your instrument. As an aside, keeping your piano in tune is important too. It is not only good for the instrument it is good for the investment you are making in lessons. Playing on an in tune instrument will reinforce all of the natural ear training that occurs while playing.
Once you are sitting with the instrument and it has been tuned, it is often helpful to begin with scales or other finger pattern exercises that relax the overactive mind and allow you to become more focused. This is also a good way to get your fingers warmed up. When you are ready, tackle whatever piece(s) you are working on. It is incredibly helpful to be familiar with the melody of whatever you are trying to play. If it is totally unfamiliar you can try to find it on You Tube before you even begin to practice. If it isn’t available on You Tube, you can ask your teacher to play and record it for you at your lesson. Before getting the music into your fingers you can begin by singing or humming the melody. This will help get the music into your ear and of course, your brain. Music is a lot easier to play if you know what it is supposed to sound like before you start to learn it.
Some people find it helpful to keep a practice log of what they work on each day. If this appeals to you, keep it brief and simple so you don’t waste too much valuable practice time on your log; enter the date, the pieces or exercises practiced, the time spent and any questions you might come across so that you can go over them with your teacher at your next lesson. A practice log can help you to better understand how you are spending your practice time, what works, what doesn’t and then to make adjustments as needed.
At this point you are practicing! The first challenge has been met. Now you will most likely begin to encounter the challenges of; tricky rhythms, difficult passages, awkward fingering, bringing tempo up to par, metronome use and sight reading to name a few. The next series of posts will address how to deal with all of this as well as anything else you would like to add to the discussion.