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Patience in Practice: Using the week as the practice unit

Jan. 5, 2013
Patience is key to effective music study. Learn how being patient will help you learn more music, quicker, with less effort.


Founder & CEO | Sage Music

I’m writing this post today because patience is something that is necessary for practicing effectively. Despite being a very patient person, I am certain that I can use more patience in practice, because the way my own practice fell apart today.  I intend this article as a reminder for myself to strengthen my own discipline,  and hope that it will help you in your practice, too.

As I was practicing a fingerstyle guitar arrangement of a popular piece that I am arranging, my practice started exactly the right way.  I studied the score, carefully selected fingerings and noted them in the score, sang the melody, clarified rhythms, and then visualized my movements.  After all of that work was done, I put the metronome on a slow tempo and began to repetitiously practice small sections that I could keep under control.  But as it always happens, I began to gain confidence in my ability to play those sections, which is a good thing.  And as my confidence and familiarity of those passages increased, my desire to play faster also increased, which is not necessarily a good or bad thing.

I should have stopped there. I should have stopped after I had made many accurate repetitions of those passages. But I instead started to play them faster. Then I started to play faster groups of passages.  Here is where the trouble began.  I would play 3 small sections together at a fast tempo. It felt good to play fast and accurate.  But the problem is that the first section was easy, while the last was very difficult. So I then made lots of errors on the last part. Each time I did this, I was ingraining bad habits of movement into this piece, which is necessarily a bad thing.

My desire to play the piece exactly as it should sound ‘right now’ was the root of my problem. I should have reminded myself that it takes several weeks for habits to fully form, and for the new connections in our brains to grow and connect.  Since that is how we grow as musicians, I should have trusted in the process and practiced accurately.

So here is what I suggest that you (and I) do. Instead of expecting to make huge results ‘right now’, be aware of how we actually learn. Take a deep breath, relax, and know that it takes weeks to develop habits in playing music. Practice your music slowly for a week of accurate practice and then at the week’s end evaluate how much you have achieved. If you let go of the need to play the piece right ‘right now’ you will probably surprise yourself with the progress you actually made over a week’s time. I always do.

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