By Caitlyn Koester, PUC instructor in piano and harpsichord
With the start of every new year comes anticipation for what’s to come, and the spark of inspiration to fortify, streamline, and enhance one’s personal potential. The annual New Year’s Resolution is the perfect opportunity for us as musicians to apply these principles to our practice routine. The great thing is that the principles behind each of these music-specific tips apply to anyone in any field or area of study.
I find myself constantly reconsidering and rejiggering my own process and methods in order to continue to improve, and over the years have found some favorite tips and tricks. Here are a few I share time and again with my students, and frequently reintroduce to myself.
- Keep a practice journal. As when we were in elementary school and our first music teachers wrote down our assignments, it is useful to have a plan of attack when you sit down to play. For adults, the practice journal provides personal accountability, and the opportunity for both planning and reflection pre- and post-practice. At the end of my time at the instrument I like to take note of what specifically I need to look at tomorrow (down to the measure), and which practice methods I would like to apply to these sections. I also like to look forward to concerts and projects I have approaching in order to plan appropriately and learn my music in an organized fashion.
Non-music application: Use this method for your lab projects, workout sessions, studying for exams, rehearsing speeches, etc.
- Schedule your practice time. As with anything important in our life, it is imperative that we prioritize the activity by dedicating real time on a regular basis. When I block out time to practice in my smartphone’s calendar, I find myself honoring the commitment as I would with any other priority. Plan ahead, block out those hours on your calendar, and check your daily practice off your to-do list!
Non-music application: Schedule solid time for working on an essay, reviewing lab notes, making sure to grab breakfast, calling your mom, spending time outside, etc.
- Become an early bird. All too recent are my memories of practicing at Juilliard until midnight… Although this seemed like the perfect solution to fitting in more hours during my busy graduate degree, I now realize that much of my time at the instrument was at less than 100 percent efficiency, energy, and creativity. When we practice in the morning–and better yet, make it the first cognitive activity we engage in upon waking–our mind and our physical alignment are fresh and ready for the task. At this time, we are not weighed down by a day full of conversation, work, physical activity, and distraction. Take this a step further and make practicing the last thing you do before winding down for the evening and the first thing you do upon waking, and you’ll be reinforcing your practice efforts on the daily.
Non-music application: Practice getting up earlier in the morning to finish your assignments, rather than staying up late to cram them in. When studying for an exam, try studying in the evening, going to bed at a reasonable hour, and then rising early to study more, reinforcing what you’re reviewing.
- Visual Manifestation. Practice is not only the act of physically playing your instrument. Be sure to visualize yourself performing in preparation for recitals and concerts, whether sitting in the practice room at the instrument or at home with music in hand. Envisioning the atmosphere, what you’ll smell, the temperature, your attire, the time of day, and how you’ll begin are all helpful for your mental preparation and focus. Take this a step further to enhance your expression of a piece of music before you begin playing by envisioning where the music might transport you. What does the place or scene look like / smell like / taste like / feel like?
Non-music application: Imagine the end result of the final project you’re starting. What message do you want to convey with what you’ve created? When you’re presenting, what will the room look like / smell like / taste like / feel like? Envision your success from the very beginning and it will give you a definite end goal that feels (and is!) attainable.