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Four Tips On How to practice
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Four Tips On How to practice
Our previous article: 8 ways to improve your flute teaching, recommended skill as the bedrock upon which your teaching business rests. Even for us non-teachers, we still need to improve our skill. Here's a few tips on how to get great technique!
Firstly, we need to understand what practice is, then we need to understand why we're practicing, then we need to pracice!
Practice is when you do something over and over again in order to get better at it.
It's a little more than that, though. You can easily do something hundreds of times the same way without feeling, or without thinking about it, and not get any results. This isn't what we mean here by practice. To get the most out of your practice, you need to set up the right mental attitude.
1. Silence and Listening
All effective practice needs to begin with silence, and listening. Listen to the silence, and the noises that fill the silence. Listen to whatever is going on right here, just now.
Aldous Huxley said "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
You need to listen to the silence, and you need to listen to yourself, to your instrument, to your sound, to the tempo. You need to listen to the music. You need to listen to what the composer was trying to say, or create. Listen to recordings of others playing, listen to recordings of yourself playing. It's through listening that insight can come, which in turn deepens the quality of your music.
Until you can listen really clearly, you can ask other people to listen to you. Ask them questions. Rememeber they, like you, are only one person, and so they won't be telling the whole story, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from them.
The more clearly you're able to listen, the more you learn about your playing, and the more effective your practice sessions will be, the more you'll improve. Always be questioning. Always be listening. Always be curious!
Listening is the first practice you should begin with.
When you can listen, you'll know what you need to practice, and why you're practicing.
Next comes the "hard work". You must not be afraid of hard work. Hard work coupled with listening will work miracles on your skill.
Winston Churchill said "Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential."
So it is with everything. Once you know how to listen, this will show you where best to put your effort. Until you know where to begin, ask your teacher, or start with your least favourite parts and practice them so many times, so slowly that you begin to enjoy them as much as your favourite parts.
Delight in the hard work of practice, in small doses. Build it up. Play the piece, then play it again, then play it once more for the sheer delight of the movement of your breath, your fingers and the notes through your mind.
It's easy to recommend hard work, but it's hard to do it. The actual work isn't hard, but it's beginning it. Just like jumping into a cold pool in order to go for a swim, or pulling an elasterplast off quickly, the anticipation of it is often the worst part.
You will get stuck in ruts, but you need to let them go: you must push through them. Your mind will try to play tricks on you. It will offer up every excuse it can for you to not practice, but you must pick up your instrument yet again, just now, and play. It's very good to tell your teacher when this happens. They will have all kinds of tricks and tips to give you about how to get through your ruts.
Remember, you can always do something, no matter how small. If you keep practice a small, light idea, it won't be difficult in your mind and you won't find excuses not to do it.
Play slowly. Get it right slowly. Take only one note at a time if that's all you can manage, and play it.
Practice has a kind of magic in it, because once you start to do one tiny thing, from that, a wish to do more arises. Make it so that your instrument is always ready to play, so that it's not hard to play that first note. Pick it up now. This will still be here to read later on. Time to practice!
Here's a little thing to use when practicing to make it into a fun game so that the brain doesn't trick us out of practicing: take a few notes, and then play them slowly. Then add another note on the end, and keep going one note at a time - play it through each time, adding another note, until you've finished a whole piece.
Another trick is to take a phrase you'd like to get good at, and start at the end note. Keep adding the previous note on each further play through until you are starting at the beginning of the phrase, focussing on fluidity and fluency, and really linking the notes together. Then patch that phrase back in to the larger piece you're practicing. Rinse and repeat until you've learnt how to connect the phrase into the piece.
All of this needs to be light. Remember it's called play because you need to enjoy it. You'll be surprised how much more you'll practice if you're able to find the delight in the simple activity of playing your instrument.
Play with others. Play in different places. Play softly, play hard. Play the piece backwards! Have fun with it.
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