Contrary to that crusty adage about getting to Carnegie Hall, practicing music is way more about quality than quantity. A budding student can devote entire days to their sheet music, but only a focused practice regimen will return the best results. Here are some steps to practice music effectively, and maybe even cut down on your practice time.
1. Think about the piece beforehand.
Never has not playing an instrument seemed more productive. Since playing music (obviously) revolves around physically playing the parts, you might consider ruminating over the piece actually a waste of your practice time. However, like sight reading, to practice music effectively requires some mental effort. Use dead brain time to contemplate a song's melodies, think about the way it employs loud-soft dynamics, and tempo changes. Once you sit down to physically practice these parts, they will feel less intimidating and you will feel more self-assured.
2. Mark up your music.
Get out your crayons, highlighters, and markers and turn your sheet music into a MOCA installation. By annotating a piece, you can make yourself more conscious of its nuances. Highlighting the elements in sheet music draws attention to important changes in the music, and color coding things helps your brain process these things faster. Learning to look ahead through a piece as you play it comes as a challenge, but creating visually stimulating signage will help ease that task.
2. Focus on your mistakes.
Unlike sight-reading, where pushing through mistakes should help you learn how to improvise in the face of human error, practicing music should focus significantly on your biggest flaws in a piece. Rather than waste time repeating a song from start to finish, place most of your effort on the parts that you know need help. You will save yourself so much time this way (like, do you really need to play those six measures of consecutive whole notes every time?)
Warmups are the tongue twisters of practicing a song and strengthen your finger technique before you play. There are different types of warm-up exercises that you can try before practicing (and a lot of them are actually quite fun). Before working on a piece, practice your chromatic scales or your arpeggios. Unlike a physically-draining football warm-up, instrument warmups feel less like dunking your head in ice-cold water and more like a warm cup of coffee. Embrace them!
4. Practice before bed.
One key way to practice music effectively revolves around when you choose to practice. Keep your neighbors tossing and turning in their beds all night by playing music you still haven't mastered. All kidding aside, learning before going to sleep is a great way to retain knowledge and skills. Set aside some time in the evening to focus on a couple particularly troubling sections in a piece and work through them, so when you return to them the next day they will be fresh in your head. (Related: get some sleep).
5. Alternate tempos.
As we've already mentioned, to practice music effectively means keeping your brain awake. Spice up a boring practice session by changing up the speed you play the songs. When approaching a difficult section in a piece, start off slow at first and then pick up to the song's standard tempo. You should make sure to practice the pieces slower more than you practice them faster and as you become more confident, you can increase the amount of faster tempos. This helps keep you engaged with the work and prevents your practice sessions from becoming a rote activity.
Looking for more opportunities to practice? Head over to Chromatik for more sheet music and tutorials!