how much practice will you have to do? And how do you practise
effectively? We tell you everything you need to know about practising
Why play an instrument?
What instrument to play
How to buy an instrument
Where to get lessons
How much progress will I make?
Upgrading your instrument
Finding opportunities to play
Violin & Viola
Trumpet & Cornet
Other brass instruments
Your questions answered
Links to other sites
Practice is a contentious issue in
most families. There are not many musicians who enjoy it. There are
even some very fine musicians who do very little of it - a recent
survey of professional instrumentalists revealed some surprising
results. So if you are told, as we were once, "You need to do an
hour a day at Grade 3, and 6 hours a day at Grade 8", take it
with a pinch of salt. A very large pinch!
What matters is not the quantity of practice, but the quality .....
Little and often does the trick. Provided you do it every day
(well, don't be too hard on yourself - say 6 times a week!) most
people can get away quite nicely with about 15 minutes' daily
well-organised practice for every two grades of progress. So if you're
between beginning and roughly grade 2, say 15 minutes per day; around
grades 3/4, 30 minutes; grades 5/6, 45 minutes and so on. Really. The
trick is in the words "well-organised".
The French for "practice" or "rehearsal"
is "repetition". A very wise and musical race, the French!
Because that's exactly what good practice should be - repetition.
Playing a thing once is not practice.
Learn to take music to pieces. We repeat - playing a piece all
the way through and then putting the instrument away is not practice.
Only very rarely should you play any piece all the way
through. Pick a shortish section, and say to yourself "today I'm
going to practice this section, and tomorrow the next".
When you find a place that always goes wrong, decide which
note or notes are the problem. Play that note or those notes several
times. Then add the note before, several times. Then add the whole bar
before several times. If it goes wrong again, go back to the beginning
of the process. If it goes right, try the whole section again and see
what happens. If it still isn't right, make a mental note to do the
whole thing again, perhaps not next day but the day after.
Be patient, and forgive yourself. Everybody makes mistakes.
Most of us make the same mistakes over and over. It's very
frustrating, but you don't have to be perfect straight away. You can
be perfect next week.
Don't ask too much of yourself. Set yourself targets that you
know you can achieve. Don't say "I'm going to play this whole
piece with no mistakes at all", but "I'll play the third
line four times over, and then I'll stop even if there are still
mistakes". But before you put your instrument away and go and
watch telly, get your notebook and write down "Still wrong notes
in bar 16 - practise this tomorrow".
Practice can be very tedious. Don't be embarrassed to play
silly games with yourself to make it more bearable. If you've decided
to play one passage four times, for instance, play it once normally,
then once standing on one leg, then once looking out of the window and
once with your eyes shut. Or get a packet of sweets and give yourself
rewards: say to yourself, "I'll have one sweet when I have played
this bar once without a mistake, and then I'll have another when I've
played the whole line, and another when I've played the first two
lines.." and so on. Silly, isn't it? But ... whatever it takes,
However boring and pointless they may seem, scales are of
vital importance. On string instruments there is nothing else that
establishes finger-patterns quite so well, and on all instruments you
are practising patterns of notes that will occur over and over again
in all sorts of music. Once you really know your scales, you'll be
pleased you took the trouble.
Treat scales (and arpeggios when you get to them) just like
pieces: don't just play them a couple of times, but take them to
pieces and work on the difficult bits over and over before putting
them back together again. And if they're still not right, don't curse
and take up knitting instead - just patiently do it all over again
Routine is valuable for most people. Do things in the same
order every time you practice.
If you have somewhere you can leave your instrument out
instead of putting it away in its case - in your bedroom, or on top of
the piano, say - then do. Beware little brothers and inquisitive dogs,
though! You are more likely to actually do your practice if the
instrument is sitting there all ready to play.
Click here to go home
Copyright © David Bramhall 2001