Allow Enough Preparation Time in Your Music Practice…

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Poor music practice planning!

© DerL –

…or, You Can’t Rush the Pig

Trying to hurry through your music practice? When practicing music for a concert, or even for your weekly lesson, it is vital that you allow yourself enough preparation time.

Lately in this blog, we have discussed how to create your personal musical vision statement. This process includes setting intermediate goals as steps toward your ultimate vision, each goal with a specific time frame. Today, I would like to remind you how important it is to give yourself enough preparation time, and give you some guidelines for success in figuring out how much time you need.

But first, here’s my latest experience with poor planning (it required a fire extinguisher).

Recently, we had our annual pig roast here at camp. We usually have around 100 people, so we get a big pig and start roasting it in the wee hours of the morning. We’ve been doing this for a number of years and have the system pretty well perfected.

Except that this year, we had a slightly smaller pig. We adjusted the cooking time accordingly, but there were a couple of other variables we hadn’t allowed for, with the result that it was almost time to eat and the pig wasn’t done yet. We cut off portions that were cooked so we could begin to fill the meat trays. And that’s when it happened. The four-alarm grease fire. We were able to rescue the meat (which was now charbroiled, but still not done), but it took two attempts with the fire extinguisher to put out the flames.

Rule #1 for pig roasts: You can’t rush the pig.

And so it is with practice. A good performance is the product of good practice OVER TIME. You can’t cram it the night before.

So here are three guidelines you can use to time your practice goals successfully, and avoid cramming:

1. Learn from the past. Take a moment to reflect on the times when your preparation was solid and you performed well. What was your timeframe then? Children who are beginning music students are often given a year’s worth of preparation time before the annual recital. More advanced players may not need that much, but when you have “lived” with a piece for a substantial length of time, you perform it with a level of mastery that can’t be achieved any shorter way.

2. Know thyself. How do you learn best? If you are a “tortoise” type of slow and steady learner, you may prefer to give yourself many small goals that keep you on the path. Or if your nature is really more toward jackrabbit starts of short duration, then plan enough time for several energetic bursts of progress, that will take you farther faster but allow you frequent breaks.

3. Allow for the unexpected. Just when you think you have everything under control, life happens. Your best practice plans go to pieces and you’re not on schedule any longer. You can’t account for every bump in the road, but if you build in some extra time to your plan at the outset, the bumps won’t be roadblocks, just speed bumps that slow you down.

There is no single ideal timeframe for music learning. The time required will vary from piece to piece, and musician to musician. But using these three guidelines, you can work through your steps with success. And without having to call 911 to put out the fire.

What do you find is the biggest roadblock to meeting your goals?

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  • roger steffen

    I enjoy your blog very much…The first time i saw you perform was at shade mountain winery i believe…David and Barbara Prescott took me to see you and shared quite a few wonderful stories about you and there family…
    i wanted to say i share your site with young people that i know that are into music… what i find interesting are the little things you can only learn from years of experience that you share
    like the phrase “when you have lived with a piece for a substantial length of time” that is so true and beautiful…
    a tiny bit about myself i am self taught piano a little violin but i am mostly a composer so to speak in my own mine … i lived in five homes before i was 12 as an orphan but found a wonderful farm family to raise me… then married had three successful children… but to say how lucky i was at the age of 22 to touch my first notes on a piano
    it is the one gift i have given my self that has raised me up above every thing else and changed my life forever…so many young people want to play… they know they like it but they don’t know what it will give them in time… you know!!! and i know… because “we lived it”

    “unlock my heart”

    when i set at my piano
    close my eyes
    i see color no disguise
    i touch keys
    unlock my heart
    then i sail away
    to some distant sea
    unload from my soul
    all debris


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