Let’s face it. Practicing is just so much more fun and rewarding when you see progress. If you don’t see progress , then you will feel that you are wasting time. You will feel agitated and annoyed. This can also quite easily cause body pain if you are tense from the built up frustration if you practice for extended periods of time. Below, I wish to compose a list of efficient practicing methods – from a psychology point of view. Note that I am not a psychologist, but these ideas are pretty basic and yet I feel they are often overlooked by a great many beginner and amateur students (and of course professionals as well!) Being a student of piano and a piano teacher, I will relay the information in relationship to the instrument I work with every day. These same tactics can apply to anything. So let’s get started!
1.) Clear your mind and be kind to yourself. The most important of the 10 is to be able to clear your mind of built up emotional frustration when you are not achieving your practice goals. I have also fallen prey to the emotional torment I allow myself to endure if something is not going my way. You need to relinquish your pride and not be so hard on yourself. Don’t judge yourself for being a failure. Don’t get frustrated at yourself for not being able to do something immediately. Be kind to yourself. This will help in so many ways for long term goals. It will also relax your mind and your body and you will be more focused and better equipped for efficient practicing.
2.) Stop doing the same thing Over and Over and Over when it is NOT working! If it isn’t working, it is never going to work UNLESS you approach the issue from a different angle. Perhaps it’s a bad fingering, you are too tense, your mind is on other things. Perhaps you simply haven’t practiced slowly enough. Whatever it is, don’t internalize it as it being your fault. Be objective about it, step away from the piano and just breathe. Enjoy Life for a few seconds before you attempt to tackle the problem again.
3.) Isolate, Isolate, Isolate. One of the biggest blunders of practicing is to start playing from the beginning of the piece every time you make a mistake. Don’t even start at the beginning of the phrase. It is essential that you isolate the problem. Find the exact measure you are having difficult with and practice that ALONE many times. Put it back into context within the phrase and try again. If it still fails, isolate the measure again. Rinse and Repeat. Make this one of your highest priorities.
4.) Slow practice. When I say Slow, I mean Ssslllllloooooooowwwww! This is a difficult thing for the mind to accept because its thinks it is wasting time by practicing slowly. But in the long term, that slow practice will result in achieving your end goal at a faster pace. In other words, You’ll be SAVING time by TAKING your time. Muscle memory works much more efficiently at a slower tempo as well.
5.) Perfection doesn’t last. Have you ever done something seemingly perfectly at the end of a practice session only to perform pathetically the next day? Well, get over it! You need to see the humor in things. This is actually pretty funny. The body just says ‘screw you’ and does it’s own thing after a good nights sleep. Establishing a new technique and mastering a new passage takes dedicated work day in and day out. Just laugh it off, and get back to work.
6.) Red Flags. When you begin to sense frustration building, you need to learn to move to something else. You need to learn to disengage your emotions and if you can’t do that then just get a drink of water and take a few deep breaths. Shake your hands out. Jump up and down a few times. These 3 things will relax your body and take your mind off the issue. Go back and approach from a different angle!
7.) Do mental practice in a relaxed and comfortable environment. If you can hear the piece being played, then set the room temperature, light a scented candle and lay on your sofa or bed. Close your eyes and really focus on your goal and different angles to achieve it. You could also take a hot bath every day and concentrate on your goals as well. Again, be kind to yourself.
8.) A change of routine. My first note is to not abuse this strategy, as a consistent routine can be one of the strongest weapons in your arsenal. But just like in many things, one can get bored easily. Change it up. If you have a certain routine, mix it all up so the order is different. Study from the back of the piece , forward. Practice the piece so all the staccato passages are legato and legato passages are staccato. Play loudly where it’s supposed to be soft and soft where it’s supposed to be loud. This will be a simple routine change that still forces you to think.
9.) Have more short term goals than long term goals. Instead of having a goal such as ‘finish this piece within 2 months’, change it to ‘Finish this page by next week.’ With this approach, you will achieve more gratification by completing many smaller goals than feeling like your long term goal is just taking forever. This works. Try it out!
10.) Accept your imperfections. Once you can achieve this very important task, you will be better equipped to deal with your imperfections in a new light. Embrace your imperfections. Take this as a challenge to bettering yourself. When you accept your imperfections, it means you’re thinking objectively. You can more easily treat your imperfections not as a failure of yourself , but as the horizon to an entirely new landscape that you have’t yet discovered!
So that ends my list. Before you begin to tackle this list, remember to Breathe. Relax. And most importantly, be kind to yourself!