Practise Makes Perfect

Practise makes perfect – or so they say – but it’s true. If you were to ask any successful musician how they achieved their success they more than likely would tell you it was practise – and maybe a little bit of luck – but mainly practise.

The trouble with practise is getting students to actually do any! It seems to be the bane of many music students’ lives – as well as that of many (if not all) music tutors! It’s actually amazing how many students don’t really practise at all, thinking that they can “wing it” in a lesson. Very few actually get away with it. Very few. And it’s incredibly frustrating for music tutors, especially when they can see potential in the student.

So what to do about it?

Well the key to actually doing any practise is making it part of your daily routine. It should be as much a part of a daily routine as doing your homework or brushing your teeth. Then it just becomes something that you do, without it becoming a big thing.

There are many recommendations about the length of practise depending on the age and standard of the student. But it’s important to remember that it is the quality not the quantity of the practise time that is important here. It’s very easy to spend half an hour playing the same piece the whole way through over and over again without tackling any of the problem areas. The student might fulfil the practise time, but it’s not been quality time. Tackling the problem areas for a shorter time makes for better quality practise, even though there is less quantity.

It’s also important that practise should be fun and not a chore. Ok, it’s fair to say that there are some elements of music practise that some students might find are far from fun (scales anyone?) but that doesn’t mean they can’t be. This can be something that is discussed with the tutor. There are lots of different ways to practise the different elements of an instrument and your tutor might have ideas as to how to make these more fun.

With younger students, possibly a reward chart might be the key. They master an element of their practise, they get a star, and when they have so many stars they get a reward. With older students rewards might still work but for them the satisfaction of overcoming a challenge can also be a great motivator, as it’s very satisfying to master something difficult. Plus if they have a long-term goal – eg. to play in a concert or take an exam – they will see practising on a regular basis as a step towards achieving that goal.

Possibly one of the problems with practise is the fact that it’s usually a solo pursuit which can be quite isolating. In lots of ways to get the most out of practising it has to be done individually but it doesn’t mean that every practise session has to be that way. So how about organising a weekly group practise sessions maybe with friends? This can be motivating in itself as it might encourage students to practise more at home so that they feel confident when playing for or with their peers. And in a relaxed setting friends can learn a lot from each other – even if they’re not all playing the same instrument!

At the end of the day if you’re learning an instrument and you’re not practising there really isn’t much point in learning the instrument at all. You’ll only get so far on any instrument if you don’t practise. When learning an instrument most of the hard work is done outside of the lesson, not in it. So when taking up an instrument consider whether you also have the time to dedicate to practising it at home. After all a lesson isn’t a special half hour when magic just happens. Magic only happens if you practise.

And it’s that magic that creates music.


by Colette Brooks