Last week my blog got quite a few reactions so this week I’d like to continue on the topic of how to study.
How much time you get for your music lessons, whether it’s 22,5 minutes per week (like my students in Kleve), 45 minutes every two weeks, a workshop now and again or an hour every week, you will end up having to do most of the work yourself; on your own with your instrument, without your teachers presence.
It’s great when you have the time to study half an hour every day, but you will only get results if you know how to spend that time effectively. Play the same few measures over and over without paying attention to the right notes, the rhythm or the interpretation and your teacher might not be so happy when you return the next week. Worse, it might have been better if you had not studied at all, because not only did you not improve but your playing got worse. Now you’ll have to spend your time unlearning the problematic rhythms and dynamics. A waste of time and very frustrating.
As a parent you would like your child to practise for their music lessons. Many time you’ll make up rules about how much time your child should spend studying and sometimes even on which days. The child might stick to the schedule, but if that time is spend looking at the clock and day dreaming about other activities, the time spent won’t get them any results.
When the child doesn’t keep the rules, studying can become an altogether difficult time for everyone: arguments won’t make the child more likely to enjoy playing an instrument.
As an adult you’ll make the same agreements with yourself. It happens quite a lot that an adult student comes to a lesson and starts by saying ‘I did not practise much this time’. Why? Somewhere they have an idea about how many hours should be spend practising, but with work, a family and a social life they find themselves short of time. They will end up feeling guilty towards their teacher (and maybe themselves?), which won’t make the lessons any more fun.
What I would like to do is to let go of the focus on time and start focussing on results. By which I don’t mean to say that you need to finish a new piece every week. If you have no problem playing the same piece for half a year, then there is nothing that says you can’t*.
What can you do to optimise your practise time?
Like I’ve suggested in my last blog: start keeping a journal on the results you have from your practise. If it happens that you don’t have any time to practise for a few days, then the next time you do sit down for practise you’ll know where to start.
Think about the way you divide your practise time.
Before you start: do you have everything you need at hand so you won’t need to interrupt your practise? If half way through you find yourself looking for a pencil, you’ll be losing some valuable practise time.
Are you a person who likes a set schedule? Make sure you have a practise routine. This can be a specific time, but it can also be a specific order in which you practise (start with your exercises and end with your favourite piece for instance).
Are you someone who likes variety? There is nothing wrong with starting with your favourite piece one day and ending with it the next, or changing things up by studying your exercises in different ways. You could even give every piece a number and roll a dice to see which piece you’ll practise next.
How many pieces are you working on simultaneously? I see students who like to practise one piece at the time, others like to have 6 pieces going, I myself find 3 optimal. Experiment: how many pieces make for boring practise and with how many pieces do you feel it’s all too much?*
Ask yourself what you would like to accomplish? Are you playing for your own enjoyment? Make you practise enjoyable (which doesn’t mean it always needs to be easy). Would you like to perform every once in a while or pass an exam? Make sure you leave enough time to prepare your pieces well.
Are you someone who likes to make everything just right? You might spend a bit longer on listening to recordings to get the piece exactly right.
As the title of this blog says: don’t focus on the time you study, focus on how you study. Think about it, choose a method that is right for you and the piece you are practising and the results will follow.
* One thing I need to clarify; if you take lessons it’s very important that your teacher knows and agrees with how much time you’d like to spend on a piece. If you would like to spend half a year on a piece, but your teacher would like to hear you play something new every week, you will both be unhappy. The same goes for how many pieces you spend your lesson time on.
When you feel that your expectations differ, start a talk about it: what does (s)he expect of you and what do you expect of him/her?