June 21, 2017

There is no end



That’s a daunting title.   
With respect to practice it is true – there is no end. 
There will always be something that needs to be worked on to improve.
There will always be some technique that needs to be refined.
There will always be a passage that is just out of reach…today.

So, it is important that we practice our practicing – because we will always be doing it.  We have talked about what you need to do for your daily practice but there is one remaining nugget to polish in our quest to become good musicians.  We must work on being good practicers.  The difference between wasting time on the bench and developing better practice is – attention.


All of those things that make up a practice won’t do a lot more than take up time unless, during the time on the bench and beyond, you think about what you’re doing.  Pay attention to what you are doing physically and mentally.  What happens when you do those things?  How far you remain from your desired end state? What specific actions will get you through that gap?

Analyze the steps you take, the actions you make. Watch what you do and identify the outcomes.  Pay Attention!  Write it down in your practice journal.  Review previous entries and determine what level of progress you are showing before and after you practice.  Repeat and improve what works, determine what didn’t work – and why – and remove it from your practice.  Remark on your progress (both good and bad) (in you journal would be a good place to put that).  Pat yourself on the head if appropriate.  Recognize the utility of your good,, hard work.

Practice may be endless but it needn’t be pointless. 

June 14, 2017

What makes a good practice session?



So, some of you let me know that while “we all know what to do in our practice” – actually, we don’t!

And that’s fair. Many teachers assume you know what to do.  Many students also assume they know what to do.  But how you spend your time is ultimately up to you.  And you need to be aware of what you’re working for to begin to schedule the elements of your practice. 
 
Here are ten things that each practice should contain to be a useful practice.

  • Actually sitting down to practice (not just thinking about it) is more important than you might think – getting on the bench may be your biggest challenge.
  • Warming up is personal but still important – don’t slag off just because you don’t hurt.
  • Exercises, etudes, and technique work are the “no fun” part of practice but they are the building blocks of all the other work.  Just a beginner? Think your Harp Hero doesn’t do this? Think again – doing this part may be the seminal reason that person is a Harp Hero!
  • Studying written music or listening to a tune to learn it – while this might be accomplished away from the harp, it is a good step to working with new tunes.  Don’t just barrel into the music – analyze it, look (or listen) for the structure and patterns.  Why make it harder to learn – a little brain work will make the finger work so much easier when you get to it.
  • Identify mistakes and focus on correcting or improving while paying attention rather than running the tunes on autopilot.
  • Play through material you have learned but need to polish (again focusing on the gaps between what you are producing and what you would like to sound like).  More autopilot avoidance - this is also the opportunity to invest in your musicality.
  • Play something you know well just to enjoy playing (not working). Because all work and no play…..
  • Stretch – just like the warm up, while this may not be glamorous, it will help you remain supple, pain free, and able to play for a long time.
  • Reflect on the session and write down what happened including things to continue working or new challenges to be incorporated into the next practice session

Your practice session should include all these elements.  How much time spent on each will vary and be based on what work you need to accomplish and each has a place in practice.  Some days you will be identifying new repertoire and will spend more time on reading and learning.  When shifting to learning those same tunes, more time will be needed for correcting and improving.  You’ll note that thinking is central to many of these items. 

Be sure to show up for your practice, don't just send your body.  Bring your brain.

June 7, 2017

Plan your work and Work your plan



Whew!  Now that we’re back from Harpa and all the focused preparation for that, it would be easy to think that it’s time to slack off.  Or because it’s summer we could argue that it’s a good time to chill a little.  Or because it’s Wednesday, we could convince ourselves it’s ok to take a break.  There are plenty of reasons to rationalize that we don’t need to work at practice.  But these are exactly the sorts of time when reapplication of focus to practicing is precisely the right thing to do!

No matter what your level of play is, no matter how much you only play for amusement or play only as a profession, practice is still work.  And like the work you do in your day job or the work you do around the house, your practice will go better if you make (and adhere to) a plan!

What should you plan to do? Well, you already know.  You might not want to do it, but you know what your plan should include.  Your plan needs to include elements that assure

  • that you know how much time you intend to work
  • that you spend your time effectively
  • that you don’t practice mistakes into what you know
  • that you learn new material
  • that you distribute your time across the things you love doing (playing things you already know?), the things that aren’t so much fun (etudes?), and the things you just don’t want to do (metronome?). 
Be sure your plan includes all the necessary work.  These things may not happen every time you sit to practice, but having a plan assures that you remember to work on things over time.

Once you have a plan – make sure you actually work that plan!  Don’t go through the exercise of making a plan and then leaving it in a drawer.  Write it down – and keep it near your work place practice spot.  Set yourself up to succeed by checking it each and every time you practice so that you are always moving forward. Occasionally review your plan to make sure it is still pushing you toward your current and long term goals.

Do you have a practice plan? Do you use it?