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Wednesday
Jul062016

7 Ways To Keep Yourself Interested In Practice

I’m a huge advocate for practicing your instrument. And as someone who loves practicing, I am well aware that keeping a regular practice schedule is exceedingly difficult.

It’s so easy for the business side of music to take priority over your practice, because frankly the practice always seems like it can wait and some other things simply can’t. It further complicates things when you have a job, if you’re on the road, or occasionally have to deal with, you know, life!

That being said, I am a big believer in regular practice because I think it has real benefits for your music career and your mental health.

When I committed to a regular practice, my entire musical world was improved. Not only was I getting better, which was hugely rewarding in and of itself, but the reactions at shows were improving steadily.

Over time, I became more confident, and with that confidence comes a certain swagger, also know as stage presence. Suddenly, people were really starting to pay attention.

And more recently, I’ve become so much more comfortable in my own skin, that I can truly, truly enjoy playing music. Every time I get on stage I get excited. Playing is now cathartic where it used to be stressful.

On the road to consistent practice, I figured out a few key things that keep me motivated. For your benefit, here they are:

1. Start a practice journal

Starting a practice journal was a turning point for my practice.

When I was in university, my piano prof would see me at the gym in the morning. When I was lifting weights, I would keep track of my lifts in a little black book.

One day, during a lesson, he asked me why I wasn’t doing the same thing with my practice. From then on, my life was changed.

I now structure my practice, keep track of goals, and mark my progress all with this little book.

The thing that I find most useful is writing down whatever is giving me problems. Then, the next day I look back on it, and work on the weak spot. When you work through things like this, your process is far more organized and efficient.

It’s also fun to look back and see how far you’ve come!

2. Find yourself a gig(s)

Whether it’s regular solo gig, gigs with a band, or sideman work, having a show to work for is major motivation for practice.

Not only do gigs keep you constantly learning new things, but they give you real world situations in which you can test out your newly learned skills.

To me, playing live is why I do this whole music thing. I love nearly everything about playing, so it’s incredibly rewarding to practice my face off and kill it at my next show.

3. Set goals and log your progress

 It sounds obvious, but setting goals sometimes takes a back seat to the regular routine of practice. If you don’t know what you’re practicing for, what are you really practicing?

I find having the practice journal incredibly helpful for this purpose. Logging your progress as you approach your goal is very rewarding.

Along with setting goals, you should be setting deadlines. ‘Have this song learned by next rehearsal’, ‘Create a full cover video of this song by Tuesday next week’.

This sort of thing make your practice feel more important - almost like a real ‘job’!

In all seriousness, when you’re a musician, practicing is a ‘real job’ and you should do everything you can to be good at it.

4. Practice a balance of music you love and music that challenges you

I spent about a year practicing blues piano.

I love the blues and I got pretty good at it, but by the end of the year my language was very limited. I didn’t play in a blues band, so I would end up playing ‘blues’ at inappropriate times (in a pop song for example). My bandmates had to point out that it really didn’t sound appropriate, for me to realize my mistake.

I needed to expand my horizons a little further than blues. I began working on my country/boogie-woogie chops, some organ chops, some jazz, and more!

Challenging yourself musically doesn’t just mean playing hard things. It means playing things that are outside your normal range of listening. You’ll be surprised at how your new musical language manifests itself.

5. Find a practice partner

Finding a practice partner is very much like finding a gym buddy. If you have someone you can try out new ideas with, work on techniques with, and get motivation and inspiration from, you’re a very lucky person.

Something about playing with other people unlocks mental doors that would have otherwise stayed closed. You’ve probably experienced this if you’ve ever played in a band; figuring out the right way to use a new lick, learning how to really lock in a groove.

All these things are best discovered with other people. The key is finding someone to practice with who is as serious about practicing as you are.

6. Make your own exercises and challenges

I’ve had fun over the years creating my own exercises to work on weak spots in my playing.

For example, the band with whom I spend most of my musical time, I play keyboard and keyboard bass at the same time. It goes without saying that this requires a great deal of hand independence.

I’ve spent the last three years creating new ways to challenge my independence. I’ve practiced playing different time signatures in each hand, working on Latin montunos, etc.

You can do this too, with just about anything!

One of my favourite homemade exercises involved playing simples scales to a metronome, and then changing the metronome to only clicking once every four bars. This is a great way to test your sense of time.

7. Find new ways to structure your practice

Are you always starting your practice with technique or theory? I used to do this too, and I hated it.

When I began my practice with 20 minutes of jamming instead, I suddenly was looking forward to practice. It’s your practice routine, you can structure it however you want!

I like to switch up my practice every week just to keep things interesting and in line with my priorities.

Do you have a practice tip that I missed? How do you stay motivated to practice? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Liam Duncan is a full-time musician from Winnipeg and a featured writer for Tomplay interactive sheet music app; pop and classical scores for piano, violin, and more, with real recordings by professional musicians. He likes to record music with friends and tour with The Middle Coast.

7 Ways To Keep Yourself Interested In Practice

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