Establishing Good Practice Habits: How Do You Stack Up?

Tuba PracticeIt’s Thursday at 2:00, and it’s time for Jonathan’s lesson. He comes into my studio and sits down and chats with me while getting out his music. He tells me that he is excited to share the work he has done on one of his recital pieces. But when he plays it for me, although he has made progress on the expressive elements in his performance, three of the wrong notes that he played in his last lesson have not been corrected.

We spend a large part of Jonathan’s lesson trying to reprogram his mind and body to play the correct pitches. But the damage has already been done. He has practiced mistakes into his performance.

Fast-forward to the recital. Despite a successful performance at his final lesson before the performance, two of the three mistakes become glitches in the recital that nearly cause Jonathan’s performance to fall apart.

Don’t Practice Mistakes

This is one of many stories I can tell about students of mine who have inadvertently rehearsed an element of their music incorrectly, and have never been able to completely relearn the passage correctly. These illustrate one of the great truths of practicing music: Unlearning is much more difficult than learning.

Humans are very good at learning through rehearsal, but relatively bad at behavior modification. It is therefore important to take great care in the early stages of learning a piece to check and double-check your performance against the score. You want to be absolutely certain that you’re not missing any details.

Good Practice Habits Have Feedback Built In

Good rehearsal techniques must include feedback that will help with error-detection, controlling body tension, and directed musical experimentation. As you work toward excellent practice habits, take time occasionally to reflect and assess whether there are areas that still need attention. Gerald Klickstein has created a questionnaire to help you refine your practice skills.

Take the survey and then let me know your insights. What improvements can you make today based on the feedback that you receive from the practice assessment?

Robert Kelley

About Robert Kelley

Robert Kelley is a music theorist, composer, pianist, harpsichordist, and Associate Professor of Music at Lander University, in Greenwood, South Carolina.
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