by Jamey Mann, The Catoctin School of Music
It is usually around the holidays when students start to find their practice schedule getting off track. Holiday travel, events, visiting and many other things start to take over. If not general business around the holiday, then other stressful events in one’s life can make practicing your instrument an overwhelming chore. It is moments like this where student might take a break or quit lessons all together.
Unfortunately, students quitting because of this is way too common. Life gets hard and practice takes a back seat, and the student starts to fall behind. Many think it is better to stop and take a break from lessons and playing all together rather than struggle. But I strongly believe this does not have to happen. If you communicate with your instructor and plan a good maintenance routine, you can keep playing through the stressful busy times life presents. The following is a recommended list of techniques that should be focused on when time and concentration is limited.
What the student practices and how much time is cut depends on the individual student and situation. Exactly what exercises the student works on during this time should be discussed between student and teacher. It is important to note that we are trying to maintain skills and consistency. These recommendations do not require much thought, we are not trying to learn new material or techniques…most are just exercises the student should already be familiar with.
- Time Management – Try to pin down exactly how much time you can dedicate to practice. If you normally practice an hour a day try cutting down to 30 minutes or less. It may seem like a lot of time to cut but you are going to use this time effectively by focusing on one to three crucial techniques each session. Students should set a clear goal and schedule for the practice session.
- Warmups/Finger Calisthenics – One of the first thing to go when practice slows is finger independence. The ability to control one’s fingers is crucial and takes a lot of practice to develop. Students should dedicate a third to half of their practice time to this.
- Scales- Not only are scales are the foundation of music theory, but they are also useful tools in maintaining technique. Scales can be used to work on rhythm, slurs, dynamics, and finger independence.
- Arpeggios – Particularly important for the guitar players right hand, arpeggios are crucial. This is where all the sound starts. Concentrating on arpeggios is a good way to focus on tone, tone color, and maintaining healthy tone. It also ensures the guitar player maintains the right-hand fingernails which are important for a good sound.
- Sight reading – Another important skill that diminishes quickly is sight reading. Luckily, there are some great resources for working on this. Sighreadingfactory.com produces random fragments of music based on the user’s settings for sight reading. Musictheory.net is useful for countless exercises and lessons. These websites are great when students are traveling a lot. Sight reading is good low stress practice and can be a great way to discover new music and composers.
It is important to move at you own pace and set realistic goals for yourself. Learning an instrument is not a race to be won and not every practice needs to be an arduous chore. Scale back and focus on the essentials and remember to enjoy your instrument.