During my years at the conservatory I was sometimes jealous of one of my roomies. He studied psychology, but spent most of his days doing other things. During the day he hardly had to be at the university and most nights he would be out on the town. The only times I did see him study was when he had an exam week. He would start the weekend before and stay at it until the early hours of the morning, to go on and pass the exam. After that week his life would continue as normal. At least that is how it seemed to me.
I on the other hand, would spend many hours in the room that my harp was in. Working on the pieces for my next lesson or the weekly etudes. I’d have one big harp exam every year, but would spend many more hours studying for that then the psychology student ever did.
From the beginning I had set myself the goal to practise a certain daily amount of hours; before I went to the conservatory my goal was half an hour every day. I would do this most days, preferably before going to school in the morning. However I never kept any notes on what I would accomplish in that time spend studying. I was very fortunate to have an hour’s private lesson every week, my teacher spent a lot of this time helping me study the difficult parts of a piece. I can’t remember doing the same thing on my own; I only later learned how useful her techniques were.
During my conservatory study I once again set for myself a daily time goal for my studies at home. In hindsight I might have benefitted from some rest now and again, because when you get to a point that you’d rather slap your harp then play one more note you can forget about being productive. However, I kept up with it and would feel guilty on the times that I didn’t fully complete my hours.
From a practical point of view, I started keeping a study diary in which I would write down the days and hours I practised and other titbits of information on my progress, like metronome times I had managed, so I would know where to start next time. Those metronome times would give me a feeling of accomplishment, because it would show at the end of the week that I could actually play something faster than in the beginning of the week.
How to effectively study was a mystery to me, at least in the beginning. Eventually I started using the techniques that my private teacher had used with me during our lessons.
It now seems strange to me that when you start high school you will get lessons on how to do homework, while when you take music lessons you never really discuss how to study at home. Why? Well, partly because there is hardly any time to do so anymore. In the half an hour (sometimes 20 minutes) that you see your music teacher every week you’ll have just enough time to play the pieces you are working on and maybe go over the tricky bits again together. You will have to do the rest of your work at home, in your mandatory half an hour a day, because somehow that is what you need to do to learn to play an instrument.
When you look at it, it seems a waste that new students don’t know how to practise at home. When you do practise half an hour every day you’ll have 7 times more time practising the pieces alone than the half an hour lesson every week. When you know how to spend your time effectively you would never need to go to a lesson unprepared…
A good way to start is to keep a practise journal. Instead of writing down the times that you practise, write down what you’ve accomplished during that time. Any sort of progress you make on your piece is worthy of noting; from playing a part of the piece without any mistakes to making a certain metronome number or listening through a recording of the piece. That way you will at least have a good idea of what you are doing and will know exactly where to continue the next time you practise.
I hope you found this blog useful. If so, do come back because over the next few weeks I will be posting more tips on practising at home.