Written by Alan David Gould - Check out his website for this and other great articles that he has written!
There is a dramatic difference in the approach to practice between amateur and professional musicians. Professionals, often because of time constraints, practice what they can’t yet play. This is a good habit to get into, even if time is not of the essence. Methodical practice of challenging techniques and difficult passages is the key to mastering any musical instrument. Take these tips from the pros and significantly improve your practice technique.
Its part of what you do: Put the practice time into your schedule; otherwise, it’s going to get by you. You’ve got the time, but you’ve got to make the time.
Start small: Everything can be reduced to single units of measure; when negotiating a difficult passage, take it apart. Follow the order of practice ascension; mastery of single notes, then pairs of notes, then phrases, lines, sections, then finally the entire tune from beginning to end. Learning a tune is like constructing a building. Everything is based upon a solid foundation. This is a good model for learning any new skill.
Take notes: Try not to make the same mistakes twice. Write down where your issues and problem areas are, so that you can go right back to those spots and continue to work on them. Spend your time working on the areas themselves; not stumbling around trying to find them. If you’re always hanging out in one place in your practice, staying within your comfort zone, your evolution is going to be difficult. If you’re constantly breaking new ground, though the immediate rewards may not be apparent, improvement is inevitable.
Make a joyful noise: Don’t practice mindlessly, or halfheartedly. Try to get the best sound you can. Practicing on your own will help to give you the confidence you will need to eventually perform in front of people. Of course, there’s no substitute for actual performance experience. But it’s easy to visualize a concert hall where you are performing for a choice audience and playing your heart out! Create the illusion and eventually the illusion becomes a reality.
Practice what you can’t play: You already know what you know.