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Rick Dior


How To Become a Master of the Practice Room...


Doubtless you have heard the statement "practicing is an art form" many times from many people and wondered, what the heck does that mean. If you consider an art form as something that takes a great deal of effort, patience, and creativity to master then you are on the right track. It is important to note that when we are doing something that we enjoy it is not considered by most people to be hard work. For some the term "practice" rivals "homework" as a word that brings a sense dread to many. But if done in an organized and systematic fashion practicing need not be a chore. It can even be a hell of a lot of fun and give you a great sense of great accomplishment. And of course it will help you reach the ultimate goal of becoming a master on your instrument. With this in mind let's lay down some basic practising practices (sorry) to help you become a master of the practice room.

Where do you practice?
You should do your practising in an isolated environment, which consists of you and your instruments. This environment should be free of any distractions such as other people, televisions telephones, pets, and refrigerators. The room should be comfortable (as far as temperature is concerned) and be well lit. If possible treat the room acoustically so it sounds good while not disturbing others. A lot of my students tell me that they hate to practice at home because they feel like they are disturbing other family members. This can be remedied somewhat with some sound insulation and acoustic treatment.

When do you practice?
This varies from person to person but I like to practice in the earlier part of the day. The reasons for this are:
1. I find I am fairly alert in the morning, which may not necessarily be the case by the afternoon.
2. If a get a good practice session in early in the day I find it gives me a feeling of accomplishment for the rest of the day. It also gives me less to think about for the rest of the day.
3. I am usually performing at night so my mind and body are fresher for the performance.

Of course most people have to practice whenever they have a spare moment. If this is the case try to make that spare moment happen at roughly the same time every day. This will put you into a routine and routines are terrific for cutting down on procrastination.

What do you practice?
There are basically two types of practicing. The first type is what I call Fundamental Practicing. This consists of the learning of new techniques and pieces and generally improving your playing ability. This might consist of:
1. Any lesson material your teachers have given you.
2. Working on new pieces you are interested in learning
3. Sight reading
4. Memorization
5. New technical exercises

The second type of practicing is what I call Maintenance Practicing. This mainly consists of reviewing material and repertoire but can also include routine technical exercises to keep your physical skills strong. As I get older (and busier) this is sometimes all I have time for. This is why when you are young and have the time you should dedicate yourself to as much as the first practicing type as possible.

Listening
While not considered practicing by most people, critical listening is a skill that will improve your playing immensely. Try to spend at least a quarter of your available time analyzing and in some cases transcribing the performances of several top players. Always check out several recordings of any piece you might be performing if they are available.

How long should you practice?
This is the most common question that students ask me and my answer is "as long as it takes to achieve your goals for that session." Of course this varies with the amount of time one has available but goals are of the utmost importance for successful practising. A short range (one session) goal may consist of something like reading through a new piece or reaching a new (faster) tempo. It could also include memorization of a section and sight-reading a given amount of music. This is an organized way of taking small steps to reach a goal.
In any given week I might have music to learn from the two orchestras with which I perform as well as upcoming Broadway show performances that I may be involved with. I might also have music to learn for upcoming studio sessions and I have to constantly learn new pieces that my students may be working on. If I didn't approach all of this in an organized manner I would be constantly overwhelmed (I won't say that this has never happened) but thanks to good sight-reading skills and an organized practice routine I can usually get everything done and have time to hang out with my family.

How do you partition practice time?
I tell my students to break up their time as follows.
• Spend an 8th of the allotted time warming up
• Spend an 8th of the allotted time on technical exercises
• Spend an 8th of the allotted time on sight-reading
• Spend a quarter of the allotted time on learning new pieces
• Spend an 8th of the allotted time on reviewing repertoire or old pieces.
• Spend a quarter of the allotted time critically listening to or transcribing music.
There obviously may be times when you are in a pinch to learn something and in that case you would adjust accordingly.

These times will also obviously vary for someone who has three hours to practice instead of one but you get the idea. If you are practicing more than one hour take a 5-10 minute break every hour. Get away from the instrument, do some stretches and take a walk. This will help clear your mind and refresh you.

Last but certainly not least...
Practicing should not be an emotional experience. If you have a "bad day" in the practice room, you should not let it bother you and if you have a great day, you shouldn't get too excited. Your sessions should be as emotionless as possible. This will help you avoid the up and down roller coaster that so many musicians ride and fall off of. Practicing is something you will do you entire life as a musician and it should be a workman–like experience. That is, it should be the total opposite of performing, which for me anyway, is the ultimate emotional experience.


---Rick is Professor of Percussion at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and maintains an active private teaching studio. His private students have gone on to attend many prestigious music institutions such as The Julliard School of Music, The Manhattan School of Music, The Eastman School of Music, The Cincinnati Conservatory, North Texas State University and The University of Miami. Many of these students are active as professional musicians-- more here: http://www.acousticbarn.com/rickspercussionsite




Also from Rick Dior: Why You need a Good Teacher
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