practice efficiency

Reflecting on My First 100 Days of Practice Challenge

Reflecting on My First 100 Days of Practice Challenge

Last Thursday, I completed my first 100 Days of Practice Challenge. As I went straight into it after my 30 day challenge, I had practised for 130 consecutive days.

Was it hard? Yes and no. There were definitely days in which it was 11:30 at night and I hadn’t gotten to any practising because of other commitments. There were days when I could only do a short practice. But once I made the commitment to my students and online, I felt honour-bound to see it through.

Did I make any life-changing discoveries? Nope. If you do something regularly, you’re going to see some improvement. There are countless studies on that.

If anything, this challenge was an opportunity for me to get back in touch with the way I used to practice at university and whilst preparing for my ARCT in Piano Performance. Here are a few things that stood out as I look back on this challenge…

Music Practicing 101: The Looping Drill

The Looping Drill is one of my favourite drills since it can be used at any stage of music mastery.

Music Practicing 101: Organized Practicing

On behalf of music students and music teachers everywhere, I'd like to send out a huge thank you to piano teacher Josh Wright. He put together these two videos about organized practice. One thing my students hear me say - a lot - is to figure out how much time they can dedicate to practicing for a particular day, set their practice goals for that session and determine how they will assess whether they've met their goals. "Mindful practice" is also key to practice efficiency. Let's face it, if you're paying attention to what you're doing, you'll meet your goal a lot sooner than if you're just noodling around, waiting for that timer to go off. For those still trying to figure out how to set up music practice goals and how to organize their practice time, look no further:

Organized Practicing - Part 1

Organized Practicing - Part 2

Music Practicing 101: The Three Different Ways Drill

When I was a young music student, I was often told, "Fix your trouble spots" or "This spot needs extra practice. Drill that spot 10X". However, one thing I've noticed, is that my concentration wanes after drilling something five times. I think that's even a bigger challenge for music students today as they are inundated with so much more information. I like the number "3". This week, I've had my students drill their trouble spots three times. However, the catch is that they must play it three different ways. For example:

  • use three different registers
  • use three different surfaces
  • use three different levels of dynamics
  • use three different types of articulation
  • If you play more than one instrument - try it on three different instruments

My students and I have noticed that they are more focused for those three times since they are playing that spot differently each time. They are actively listening to what they are doing. 

The end result? In most cases, the problem spot was ironed out after drilling the spot only three times. 

In some cases, you may need to drill a spot up to five times. In that case, you'll make it the "Five Different Ways Drill".

Practicing Away from Your Instrument

Some of my students have come into their lesson this week, saying "Sorry, I didn't have much time to practice. I was really busy." Well, that just sums up everyone's life these days, doesn't it? There are several ways that you can practice music when you are busy. I've already touched upon speed practicing

Another thing you can do while you are in transit or while you are working on your schoolwork is to listen to recordings of either you playing your pieces and/or someone else performing them. I was working full-time in an office while I was preparing for my ARCT in Piano Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music. Practice time, while working all day and living in an apartment was quite limited. 

During the day, I popped in CD's of of piano repertoire into my computer and plugged in my earphones. Even though I was busy writing articles or sending out correspondence, some part of my brain was listening to my pieces and dissecting them. I would also listen to them on my commute home. 

Sometimes, I employ this technique now with my Japanese language studies. I'll listen to our class recordings while completing my studio paperwork. Or, I'll listen to recordings of my students' pieces to refresh my memory before heading into lessons. Another thing I did frequently was scorestudy, that is, to study the musical score. At lunchtime, I would I would sneak off to a quiet corner for five to ten minutes after eating to frantically tap out the complex rhythms in my pieces. The third idea is courtesy of one of my students and applies for to music theory and ear training. It took her a long time to memorize her Circle of Fifths. I was impressed when she told me that she set the Circle of Fifths as her iPod wallpaper. "I had to look at it each time I unlocked it," she told me. As far as ear training and music vocabulary go, there's an app for that!