What is “Smart Practice”?
My “so-close-to-being-done-I-can-taste-it” e-book is subtitled, “The Step-by-Step Guide to Smart Practice for Musicians of All Levels.” I should explain what I mean by “smart practice.” I know that for many of my students, practice is a big ol’ question mark. Sure, instructors and books will tell you what to practice, but there’s barely any mention of how to practice. There is an unspoken expectation of and preference toward students naturally figuring out practicing on their own. Fortunately, anyone can learn good habits to optimize their practice.
I define “smart practice” the following ways:
- It’s accessible and adaptable. The problem that I have with many practice methods is that they are inaccessible to learners with disabilities, chronic health problems, care-taking duties, work responsibilities, etc. My practice method can be done in as little as 5 minutes or as long as 5 hours. The idea is to work with and optimize the time/resources you have – not to try to fit some impossible idea.
- It’s systematic and simple. Any kind of music is a combination of different components: right-/left-hand techniques, concepts in music theory, stylistic elements, etc. The secret to effective practice is systematically targeting each of these components while keeping it as simple as possible. (One of my mottoes is, “simplicity = productivity”)
- It’s goal-oriented, but still habitual. Another trick to smart practice is balancing habit (doing the same types of activities each day to instill good patterns and promote a sense of ritual) and goals (specific objectives that determine very different types of activities). My practice methods include preparatory and technical exercises that should be done every day or every other day; it also includes more project-based activities like learning scales, basslines, repertoire, and improvisational approaches.
What does “smart practice” mean to you? Can you think of one change to your practice routine that would allow you to practice “smarter, not harder”?