Let me begin by mentioning that there are so many RIGHT ways to practice! No two musicians will ever have the exact same practice routine or habits. The possibilities for customizing and personalizing your own practice routine are endless!
Today's blog post, however, is dedicated to the one version of practicing that is absolutely unacceptable. It is a giant no-no. If music police existed and you were caught practicing like this, they would lock you up and throw away the key!
What, you might be asking, is this practicing crime?
To find out, take a moment to watch the famous I Love Lucy scene (below) from the episode "Job Switching" in which Lucy and Ethel are working in a chocolate factory.
If, like the chocolates in the scene above, the notes in front of you are flying by, and you are working too hard to "keep up," you are committing the musical crime of frantic or impatient practicing.
Here are some characteristics of frantic or impatient practicing:
1) practicing with too fast tempos
2) practicing with a too forceful (or too casual) attitude
3) practicing too randomly (without structure or intention)
Below are 10 reasons why impatient practicing is not only counterproductive, but also causes more problems than it solves!
1) Rhythmic Distortion
Have you ever noticed that the only way to play the correct rhythm is with the correct attitude? A dull or lethargic version of a rhythm will have little inaccuracies and so will a frantic one. When you practice impatiently, you are often playing approximations of rhythms that would sound and feel so much better if you played them with a strong sense of rhythmic integrity.
2) Poor Quality Muscle Memory
When you practice impatiently, odds are, you are including countless little technical inaccuracies (finger "bobbles"). This messy technique then gets programmed in and will come back to haunt you time and time again, possibly making you wonder "why is this part always so hard...?"
3) Higher Stress Levels
Imagine that you are getting ready for school or work in the morning and you are running late. Your heart rate and mental state feel completely different than a morning in which you have plenty of time to get ready. Similarly, frantic practicing can be the catalyst for higher stress in many subtle and overt ways. Even if you don't notice that you are stressed out while you are practicing, you may feel tired, frustrated, or simply out of motivation much sooner than you would be if you took a more patient and calm approach.
4) Notes & Rhythms Use Up Brainpower
Unlike patient practicing, in which you have a chance to acquire muscle memory, flow, and a sense of effortlessness, frantic practicing does not allow you to "let go," even for a second. In order to read all of the notes and rhythms, your brain has to focus on surviving instead of thriving. When your concentration is used up for the basics, there's not much room left for tone, phrasing, and other elements of musical expression.
5) Lack Of Enjoyment
When you practice patiently, with tempos that feel natural, and plenty of repetitions, you get lots and lots of chances to connect with your music. When you practice frantically or impatiently, however, you miss out on the emotionally satisfying aspect of listening to the music while you're practicing it. Though you might "play through" your music, you are not truly enjoying your music.
6) Weak Foundation
When it's time to be on stage, performance anxiety and the intensity of live performance can bring many more challenges than you face in the practice room. With a strong foundation of patient practice, solid muscle memory, and musical connection, you will have many back-up systems to catch you if you fall. If your breathing isn't perfect, your listening memory will help you. If your concentration isn't perfect, your muscle memory will help you. If all else fails, your strong connection to the music will save the day. Sadly, if you have a weak practicing foundation, any performing mishap becomes a dangerous one!
7) Autopilot Tone & Expression
If you frequently "run-through" your music, focused mostly on notes and rhythms, the odds of you having a beautiful and nuanced performance are slim to none. Why not enjoy luxurious tempos, relaxing repetitions, and a spirit of curiosity, instead? This will allow you to develop your tone, phrasing, and dynamics (and more!) at the same time that you are developing your muscle memory and understanding of your music.
8) Programmed Difficulty
Hopefully, after reading the previous descriptions of frantic practicing issues, you know that impatient practice yields a feeling of struggle or difficulty. When you teach your brain that your music is very difficult, it will believe you! Then, your mind will do everything in its power to make that belief become true. Even if you've practiced your piece "a million times," it will be almost impossible to gain that feeling of effortlessness with your brain insisting that the music is supposed to feel difficult. Instead of programming in difficulty, program a sense of easy flow by allowing yourself to be patient, kind, and gently persistent with tempos as slow as they need to be, and as many repetitions as it takes to feel clear, clean, and HONEST with your technique and overall preparation.
9) Buried In The Sheet Music
With patient practice, you can build confidence, comfort, clarity, and connection into your performance, allowing you the freedom to occasionally look away from the sheet music, or at least not feel so chained to it. When you practice frantically, or impatiently, you might feel like you have to "read" every single note to keep track of where you are. Look at the little boy in the picture above, with his nose buried in a book. If you don't want to look like him, with your nose buried in the sheet music, learn to cultivate freedom and ease during your patient practice sessions!
10) Missed Learning Opportunities
There is nothing like practicing your instrument in a thoughtful, meaningful way for many hours, days, and/or months in a row. It can provide you countless opportunities for learning more about your instrument, your music, your body, your mind, your learning process, your personality, and even more importantly, what you are capable of as a human being. With so many lessons and answers just waiting for you, if you are patient enough to find them, why would you want to rush right past them?
In summary, patient and thoughtful practicing is more than worth it. If you are afraid that it will be too hard for you to practice patiently and honestly, simply remember this:
You have to practice patience
just like you practice your music!
Happy (Patient) Practicing!
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