Thursday, October 25, 2007

5 Ways to Add Length to Your Practice Session

Sooner or later in nearly everyone's musical education, their teacher will sit them down and give them The Talk. This usually happens at a moment when the current amount of practice time is not sufficient in order for proper growth to happen.

So you go home and, having super-sized your practice time from half an hour to an hour (or from one hour to three) per day, try to figure out what to practice in order to add the extra time.

Here's what to do:

1. Work in more detail. With the added luxury of time on your side, now you can take apart each phrase and discover what you need to do in order to make it fit into the whole. Once you've finished working on one phrase to your satisfaction, go on to the next one.

2. Repetition. Once you've got a passage worked out, repeat it several times to solidify it in your playing. Having longer practice sessions can accomplish this very nicely. Bear in mind that this doesn't mean running whole pieces several times and calling it a practice session unless the detail work is already in place.

3. Come back to each piece you're working on every day. Day-by-day repetition is what can add tremendous reliability to your performance. That passage that almost worked in the first session of the week can usually be played with ease if attended to daily. There's something about working hard on a passage, setting it aside, and then returning to it the next day that builds confidence and command to what seemed initially unplayable.

4. Warm up properly. Consult with your teacher as to how you should warm up every day. I've already written about this, and with a longer practice session, you can have the time to put it into practice.

5. Add more diverse activities to your daily practice session. Changing gears several times can lessen any chance of boredom practicing. Activities such as technical exercises, sight reading, transposition, reviewing old pieces, playing in a different musical style, and improvising can make your time spent at the piano more rewarding.

Engage in these types of practice techniques and you'll find that the time can actually fly by. And remember to take breaks. Many people have trouble concentrating for extremely long periods of time and that's okay. A good rule of thumb is that for every hour of playing you should take at least a 10-minute break to rest both arms and mind. Come back after a small break and you'll find yourself energized.

Next: More Practice Links


  1. Amen! I actually just had "the talk" with my main voice teacher, telling me I needed to take more time to dissect each phrase. I've added an extra 45-60 min to my practice- going from 1 1/2 hours to 2+. I warm up in the mornings from 9-10, and also work on technical exercises. From 2-3 before I teach I work on phrases. I force myself to go through every phrase and every vowel! Ah!! Very tedious, but I know I'm done when the doorbell rings :) When I'm through with my day of teaching, usually around 7:30, I go through my pieces in bigger chunks. It's great because I am completely warmed up and so satisfying to finally sing through something and release some emotion. I've also started looking at music beyond opera and running some musical theater rep. Definitely keeps my acting in check and is such fun! Thanks for this amazing post on practicing- if you have more tips for professionals, they are welcome!!

  2. Wow... I teach chorus, and even though you are using that strategy as a soloist, I can really use that in a classroom/ensemble setting. Thanks for posting!