Practice Makes Permanent – Good Practice Habits For Any Musician

I heard it as a young piano and flute student, as I am sure you did: “Practice Makes Perfect!” The old adage has plagued generations of prospective musicians who grudgingly plunked piano keys, huffed into trumpets, or sawed the strings of a protesting violin. Of course, any professional musician will affirm that quality practice time is the key to success…with emphasis on the word QUALITY. The average music student will spend one half-hour a week under the supervision of a teacher, but any skills and techniques are actually acquired throughout the rest of the week as the student repeats the assigned exercises. As a music teacher, I have had more than one student return to the next lesson with a rapidly solidifying bad habit, which we then have to work to undo before progressing. To ensure that progress is made, musicians must be self-aware as they practice. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.) Sit/stand up straight. Mom was right! Make sure your feet are flat and you are sitting on the very edge of your chair. Or if standing, balance your weight evenly with your feet slightly apart. Keep your spine straight and shoulders relaxed. This improves everything: breath support, tone, hand position, etc. And best of all, you are avoiding unnecessary tension pain and headaches.

2.) Practice slowly. This is most difficult for new players who are eager to finish that first song. But tone, intonation (pitch), rhythmic precision, and control (breath or bow) are developed during slow practice. If it is not correct slow, it will not improve with speed!

3.) Get a mirror. Watch yourself as you play memorized warm-up scales or exercises to catch little faults you might not see or feel.

4.) Take notes during your lesson. Be sure to jot down specific comments your teacher makes repeatedly – is he/she telling you every two minutes to straighten your wrist? You may have a bad habit developing.

5.) Write yourself a note. If you know you have a poor habit that might be forming, write a big reminder to yourself and tape it to your music stand at home. While it is wonderful to get lost in the music, try not to lose sight of your basic technique.

Whatever your instrument, consider these suggestions as you begin your practice session. Remember: a few careful minutes can save hours of future frustration!