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Make Practicing More Enjoyable

In today’s violin lessons we’ll discuss effective ways to make practicing more enjoyable.

Violin Lessons with Summer Lusk, The Lesson Studio, Boulder, CO

Practicing is a crucial part of learning any instrument, but oftentimes it can feel like a chore. Fortunately, there are a multitude of ways to find inspiration and make playing your instrument more fun. Try experimenting with some of the following methods in order to find out what motivational techniques are best suited for you.

Set Goals

Start setting specific goals for yourself and write them down before beginning your practice session. This could be something like, “I will learn the first four lines of my new song” or “I will memorize two of my review pieces”. Truly, it can be anything, as long as you set the intention.

Direct your focus to completing these goals, rather than adhering to a certain amount of practice time, and approach practicing with the intention of learning something new by the time you are done. Finally, make sure to reward yourself for reaching those goals. (The brain reacts well to reward systems, meaning you will be more inclined to successfully complete other tasks.)

Change Your Practice Style

Rather than just playing your pieces from beginning to end over and over, ad nauseam, break them up into smaller sections and explore playing around with different tempos or beat durations. (Add a metronome to the mix if rhythm is a particular struggle.) It also helps to isolate all the difficult passages in your music and practice them separately.

Singing is another great way to practice your music — it is often easier to play a song after singing through it a few times. You could also try playing with your eyes closed/from memory; using pizzicato (stringed instruments); dancing while you play; alternating dynamics (playing soft instead of loud and vice-versa); chaining (beginning with a small passage and adding a measure each time you master a unit), creating games using dice, flashcards, etc. There are so many different ways to practice, just dig into your creative energy, and you will be sure to come up with something engaging and fun!

Rearrange Your Practice Schedule

For some students, sticking to a rigid practice schedule can often lead to feelings of boredom and stagnation. If you have been doing so with little to no results, consider abandoning this method temporarily, and practicing only when you feel inclined to — a sort of quality vs. quantity approach.

If you still feel like you require a bit of structure, try practicing at different times of the day. You might discover that you have better focus and energy in the morning before school, than when you come home after school. Perhaps weekend afternoons are easier to manage. Just experiment and see what works best for you.

Avoid practicing in huge blocks (over 30 minutes).  It is usually always better to practice in smaller chunks of time (10-30 mins), than to slave away for hours at a time. Within those smaller practice blocks, you can zero in on particular things. Maybe you work scales and etudes during one practice session, current repertoire during another, and review repertoire during your last session of the day. (Make sure to take ample breaks in between.)

Lastly, remember practicing does not always have to involve “active playing”. Feel free to spend some of your practice blocks listening to recordings of the pieces you are learning or might want to learn, working on some theory concepts, or even just improvising.

Change your environment to make practicing more enjoyable

If your instrument is portable (sorry pianists!), consider changing the spaces where you practice. A change of environment is a great way to make practicing more enjoyable. It helps to keep things interesting if you are able to play your instrument in a variety of settings, so try playing in a different room every day.

Window views are pleasant, and if the weather permits, practicing outside is a great option too, just stay out of direct sunlight in order to avoid potential damage to your instrument. Overall, it really does not matter where you choose to practice, as long as you can remain undisturbed and avoid disturbing others as well, so do your best to change up your practice space frequently.

Don’t Procrastinate!

Like anything in life, it is always best not to wait till the last minute. When you have free time, you want to make sure that practicing is not always last on the list. One of the best ways to make practicing more enjoyable is to avoid the stress of a time crunch!

Think of your upcoming lesson as a deadline that you need to prepare for, and make the necessary moves ahead of time. Your time with your instructor is meant to be used for learning and working on new material, so the more prepared you are beforehand, the more likely you and your instructor will be able to address new concepts during your lesson.

Be Positive

Remember, never put yourself in a mental block by assuming you will not be able to play something or actively telling yourself you do not want to practice. If you do that, you probably will not get started, and even if you do, it probably will not be a good practice session. Instead, just throw yourself into the process, and it will be easier to enjoy yourself and continue doing so.

Find Inspiration

A lot of people find that frequently listening to music helps to bring about musical inspiration. It does not matter the genre, style, performing artist{s}, or instrumentation, just the exposure itself is often encouraging. (If you do not usually listen to a lot of music/are not sure where to start, ask your teacher/friends/family if they have any recommendations for you.)

Also, make it a point to listen to the pieces that you are learning and follow along in your music if possible — in hearing the final product realize that with a bit of discipline and the help of your instructor you will soon be able to do the same.

You can even take ‘listening to music’ a step further by going to concerts and musical events often. If you hear that a professional artist who plays your instrument is giving a performance, do your best to attend. Attending a live performance is a sure-fire way to leave you feeling musically-inspired.

Play Music You Love

Another way to encourage and maintain inspiration is to pick your own repertoire. Tell your instructor that you would like to have a hand in choosing the songs that you learn, and they will be quite happy to oblige! Make sure to challenge yourself enough so that the material will not become boring over time. But do not choose something so incredibly difficult that you run the chance of becoming quickly frustrated, otherwise you will never want to practice. Maintain good communication with your instructor, and they will be able to aid you in finding music suitable to your tastes and ability.

Raise the Stakes

It helps to inspire drive and motivation if you have something substantial to prepare for. If the opportunity arises, sign up to participate in a recital, open mic, or any other type of musical performance. You could even put on a small house concert for friends and family. It does not have to be incredibly formal, just try putting yourself out there in front of an audience, as this is a really great experience and goal to work towards for every musician.

Play with other musicians

Lastly, play music with others as often as you can. If you have a friend or family member that is learning an instrument as well or knows how to play an instrument, find some time to make music together. Playing music in a group/ensemble setting is such an enlightening experience and can easily bring new life and meaning to your relationship with music.

These are just a few ways to make practicing more enjoyable; you might perhaps come up with some great ideas of your own as well. Definitely take the time to explore all possible methods and see what ultimately sparks your creative energy the most!