The hardest thing about music practice at home... is getting started! Here are our favourite tips to get you set on the right path for success!
Practicing tip #1: Set regular days & times for practicing.
We all get busy, but we don't forget to go to school/work or forget to eat meals because they are at the same time each day! Pick a time for your music practicing and then stick to it! Even if you only have 10 minutes to spare, it's better than nothing and will help you build confidence in yourself, discipline, and improved music skills, too!
Practicing Tip #2: Start with a warm-up.
Athletes would never think of starting a game or practice without a warmup, and neither should we musicians! Taking a few minutes to go through some scales or exercises gives you the chance to focus on your posture, set-up, tone control, comfort... before complicating things with new skills, fast passages, and music-reading! A little focus on building good habits at the beginning of a practice session will go a long way in helping you build confidence, proper technique and more enjoyable music-making!
Practicing Tip #3: Go to the hard parts first.
Whether you're working on something new or an older song, skip straight to the hard parts. Try a small section, slowly, and then try it again and again - until you build up enough comfort to play it successfully and to play it faster! Once you've tackled the hardest bits, playing a larger portion of the song will feel easier!
Practicing Tip #4: Your metronome is your best friend.
It's a lot easier to keep count when you can hear the beat sounding out loud! Start off on a slow pulse until you can get the notes to fit right on the beat, or even try clapping the rhythm first before playing! Once you can play with metronome successfully at a slow speed, gradually increase the speed each time you practice. Playing with other musicians is easier and more fun when your sense of timing is comfortable!
Practice Tip #5: Switch it up!
Practicing every day is only dull if you're practicing the same WAY. Try working on something different each practice session. Focus on a different part of your song each day, or even trade off by concentrating on one piece one day, and another song the next. Pull out an old 'easy' song and see how well you can play it now that you're more advanced! Try sight-reading something new, or even inventing your own music. Any time you spend with your instrument will help make you a better musician, and switching it up makes practicing a lot more fun!
Practice Tip #6: Use the Add-On Game.
To build fluidity, comfort and "flow", start with one musical fragment and slowly piece it together with others like puzzle pieces. Try one measure only until you like how it sounds, then move on to the next measure and do the same. Now you're ready to ADD the two together! Play the third bar until it feels good and then go back and add it in to the phrase, too! Before you know it, you'll be playing the whole page with no trouble!
Practice Tip #7: Make a show of it!
Performing and sharing our art is the reason most of us study music, so why not do it more often? Recitals and orchestra concerts are great long-term goals but they usually take months of preparation. So why not create your own mini-concert in the meantime? Setting short-term goals will help keep you motivated in your daily practicing! Plan to play a song at your next family gathering, or ask if you can play at school for your class. It can even be as simple as asking a family member to listen to that half-page you’ve just been practicing! Try it – the performance rush you’ll feel makes it all the hard work worth it!
Practice Tip #8: Make a video!
These days everyone has a video recording device on their computer, cell-phone, or ipad. Set yours to record while you play through your song, and then sit back and be your own audience! You’ll be surprised at the details you’ll notice in your own playing from this new perspective – and it will help you decide what skills or passages to focus on next! And if you love it just the way it is, now you have a digital copy you can share with the friends and family who live too far to make it to your next big concert.
Practice Tip #9: Clap it out
Rhythm is often our biggest challenge when learning a new song. And trying to make sense of all that counting while playing notes makes it even harder! Put down your instrument and try clapping the rhythm. Once you can clap it steadily, it’ll be much easier to play. Extra tip: If you can clap it out with the metronome, too, you know you’ve really figured it out well!
Practice Tip #10: Focus on tone
A beautiful tone is what brings music life to life and it’s your bow arm that is responsible for producing sound from your instrument. To focus on tone, try taking out the left hand fingerings from your playing. Just play the open strings! Follow the same rhythm, string crossings, and slurs in the song – except without the left hand notes – and see how gracefully you can play. Keep your elbow, wrist, and finger joints as relaxed and soft as possible for smooth motion. Once you find you can create a beautiful tone, add the left hand fingers back in, and TA-DA more beautiful tone!
Practice Tip #11: Bow in the air
Are you having trouble getting the bowings and slurs right in your piece? Put down the instrument, and practice some air-bowing! Sing or hum the tune while you feel the slurs and string crossings. Use small bow amounts on the little notes, and feel the stretch of the long notes. Don’t forget to hold the bow with a proper grip, and to keep the bow centred over your imaginary instrument! Once you’ve taught your arm muscles how to feel the bowings, pick up your instrument and try playing it out again. It should be a lot easier!
Practice Tip #12: Try some sight-reading
Reading sheeting music is an important part of being a musician. Yes, it can be hard at first, but if you can read, you can learn any song! To develop your sight-reading, take out your old music and try playing a song you haven’t worked on in a long time. Since you don’t know the song for memory, you’ll have to rely on your reading skills to work out the notes and rhythms. Even more fun: visit your local music shop or browse an online store to find sheet music by your favourite band/artist! Figuring out the newest Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez or Maroon 5 hit will make practicing extra special!
Practice Tip #13: Make it a date!
The best part of making music is being able to share it with others. So why not share the practicing with a friend, too? Make a date with another musician to practice together. If you are working on the same songs, you can help each other and learn from one another as you play! If you don’t know the same songs, try playing some simple scales together with different bow-strokes or in a round, and then try figuring out a new song together just for fun. Having company in your practice session will make the time fly!
Practice Tip #14: Get unplugged!
Computers, Cell Phones, Ipads and Ipods can be a serious distraction. It's just so tempting to check your messages every few minutes to see if you missed anything! When it's time to practice, leave the electronics in another room (except your metronome!) and don't go looking for them until you've completed your musical workout. Your practicing will be more successful, and if your friends are wondering where you were, a little mystery never hurt anyone.
Practice Tip #15: Set a Performance Goal
Daily home practicing occasionally needs a little encouragement and knowing that you have a concert coming up can be the perfect motivation! If your next orchestra concert or school exam is still a long way off, set your own interim performance goal. Sign up for the school talent show, invite your grandparents over for a private show, or ask your church if you can play before the service. Reaching for your goal will keep you inspired in your practicing, and the pride you’ll feel after your performance will inspire you to keep it up after the show, too.
Practice Tip #16: Take short breaks
When you practice, your whole body is hard at work: brain, muscles, and emotions. Take small breaks during practice sessions to re-energize. A few moments of stretching will relax you from head to toe. Take a walk or do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing and re-oxygenize your brain. When you return to your instrument a few minutes later, you’ll feel fresh instead of exhausted or frustrated and you’ll practice more constructively. Remember, it’s QUALITY not QUANTITY of practice that counts!
Practice Tip #17: Keep a Pencil in your case