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.

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