Directors' Toolbox

Helpful Resources on How to Practice Music Effectively

February 2, 2018
effective music practice

There’s an old joke that just about every musician has heard that starts, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The punch line, of course, is simply, “practice.” You are probably rolling your eyes at the moment, having known that joke for decades, but you also know that the truth is often said in jest – even if it’s not a particularly good jest.

The truth is that practice is absolutely essential to a musician’s success. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some great resources about the benefits of practicing and how to do it effectively, starting with:

The Process of Practicing
Written by Pepper’s own Tom Sabatino, this blog post breaks down practicing into steps. There is a handy process laid out for students to follow to help make sure they are getting the most out of their practice time. It also discusses the difference between practice and rehearsal, helping you teach your students how to approach each.

How to Practice Effectively…for Just About Anything – TED-Ed
This video discusses the physiological effects of practicing on your brain. By watching this, you can learn what actually happens when you practice and how to apply it to your own practicing. There is also an accompanying NPR article that summarizes the main points of the video.

My 11-Year-Old Son Auditioned at Juilliard, and We Both Learned a Lot About How Top Performers Practice
The title of this article spells out pretty succinctly what it’s about. A mother tells the story of how her son practiced three hours a day for his audition for Juilliard and how she encouraged him along the way. If you have a young musician in your family, it is a very important read.

Getting Kids to Practice Music — Without Tears or Tantrums
Any parent of a young musician knows that getting your kids to practice can be quite the struggle. Not only is it important for music development, the discipline that comes with practicing is important for their future as a person. This article discusses how to encourage your musical children and help them grow into self-motivated adults.

Encouraging Music Students to Practice
This article from NAfME gives a number of reasons young musicians often give for why they don’t practice and gives teachers some ways to combat them. It also presents a list of words and phrases to discourage students from using. The idea is to find ways to get students to believe in their own abilities.

How to Set Up an Effective Practice Space
It is important for music learners to find a place they can focus, but it’s not always easy. This article from AMP talks about what makes a particular area well suited for practicing. The space should be comfortable and have little foot traffic or other distractions. If you have a music student in your home, you’ll want to see what this article has to say.

If you’re looking for more great ideas, check out these books and resources.

What are your tips for more effective practice? Share them in the comments.

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  • Reply J. Neff February 6, 2018 at 12:14 am

    Nice work providing resources.

  • Reply Martin Morley February 24, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Solid concepts — I completely agree with these articles, and would like to add a couple of things. As a pianist, I think an important part of “muscle memory” is to choose fingering carefully, then use the same fingering every time. Working with others, my prime objective is for them to leave the lesson/rehearsal feeling better about themselves. The most effective tool I’ve found for doing this (in addition to the great stuff in the articles) is to practice backwards, e.g., if the piece has four rehearsal points ABCD, we begin at D then go to the end, then begin at C and go to the end, then at B, then at A, then from the beginning. (This is AFTER we’ve worked out anticipated spots that are anticipated to be problematic or more difficult.) Practicing backwards means that, instead of always moving toward the unknown, we are always moving toward something that is more and more familiar. It relaxes the student or group (choral, handbell, instrumental) and gives a boost in individual/group self esteem.

    • Reply Jen Tolnay February 26, 2018 at 7:39 pm

      Yes! Consistent fingering is so important. The idea of practicing backwards is very interesting – thank you for your comments.

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