Is it possible to practice for hours without seeing much progress? Or how about advancing by leaps and bounds in just 20 minutes? Both of these scenarios are probably more common than you think. That’s because how you practice can be a lot more important than how much you practice.
You may instinctually think that the best way to learn a piece of music is rote memorization. Maybe you decide to play a piece over and over again until it’s learned. Unless that piece is very short, you could be playing it over and over again for a long, long time.
The first problem is that your practice would lack focus. Suppose a piece is 100 measures long. Of those 100 measures, 15 might be very difficult and the rest might be easy. By playing the piece over and over again without focus, you end up giving the same attention to easy measures as you do to the difficult ones.
Instead of mindless repetition, try adding some strategy to your practice. When you first start a piece, it’s not a bad idea to try playing through once all the way from the beginning to the end. In doing so, you’re practicing your reading and you’re getting a sense of the form of the piece. After that, it’s time to think about where the most challenging sections of the piece are.
Find your most challenging sections and polish them until they’re the strongest. Be careful to keep checking with the printed music. Teachers used to say that practice makes perfect. Now they’re more likely to correctly say that practice makes permanent. If you practice a challenging section with the wrong notes, it could be even worse than if you had never practiced at all.
Practicing is also about critical thinking and problem solving. Keep finding new ways to make your performance better. You can even perform for others and ask for feedback or record and review your performances. You’re guaranteed to learn about your strengths and weaknesses.