Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of music study is the discipline needed for daily practice. It’s hard to commit that time every day, especially when progress can sometimes feel slow. No one wants to keep reliving the same practice session every day, just as we don’t want to eat the same dish for every meal. My trick to keep practicing interesting is to vary my approach and focus. Just as a healthy diet includes all the food groups, so should practicing include attention to all of the many facets of music: from tone and intonation to rhythm and tempo, to style and sentiment.
Music is primarily sound, so make sure you sound good, no matter what you’re playing! Start each session with a solid warm-up, playing slowly enough to ensure that you’re producing a resonant and beautiful tone from your instrument.
Intonation is a battle you’re always fighting on fretless stringed instruments, wind instruments and vocals. Slow your repertoire down so you can really listen to each note individually and experience the joy of good tuning.
Rhythm is what gives music its groove, and what has intrinsically tied music to dance in all cultures world-wide for thousands of years. Take time to mathematically understand the counting in your part – but focus on the timing of how your part matches the beat of the piece. Clap the rhythm, speak the rhythm, dance to the rhythm; feel the heart-beat of the music coming through the melody.
Tempo… what to say. Speed comes to all things in due time. When you’re comfortable with your notes and rhythm and tuning, it won’t feel so hard to do it all just a little bit faster. Don’t rush it! Put on a metronome and try a passage at an easy, comfortable speed. Try a notch faster. Tomorrow you’ll add another few clicks.
Stylistic choices in your playing can be influenced by the composer, the music genre, the ensemble or the event at which you’ll be performing. Context is everything! Do your research so you can bring the most appropriate touch to each song.
And lastly - but not least! - don’t forget to express yourself. Music is an emotional journey for the performer as much as for the audience and we can perform only that which we have practiced. Throw yourself into every phrase, breathe deep. So much of what we do as musicians can be thought of as a science… but ultimately, music is art. Once you’ve done the work… set the music free.