One of the most important skills that a musician can learn is how to practice effectively. In this article I will detail several easy ways to maximize the effectiveness of your practice time in the areas of instrumental music and voice.
Practice Doesn't Necessarily Make Perfect
My first private teacher used to tell me, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Practicing perfectly makes perfect." Whenever you practice, pay close attention to your technique -- especially any new techniques that you are learning -- because it is very difficult to unlearn bad habits. If you are a percussionist, consider practicing in front of a mirror so you can see your hand technique from a different angle. If you see any technique issues, take care to fix them as soon as possible.
When learning a new exercise or piece of music, be sure to start at a slow, comfortable tempo and gradually build up to your target speed. A metronome is very important in helping you to build speed, because it allows you to see your improvement over time in a numerical format. It is very exciting to see your improvement over time this way. To start, find a tempo that is easy for you, and slowly increase the tempo on the metronome in increments of three to five beats per minute. When you feel yourself begin to struggle or tense up, back down on the tempo a little and practice until that speed is comfortable for you. When you can play it at that speed while remaining relaxed, try increasing the tempo again.
Remove All Distractions
One of the most important things to do before you practice is to make sure that no one will interrupt you, and that your practice area is free of distractions. A bedroom or other low traffic area of a house is ideal for practicing. Try to find an area that doesn't have easy access to a computer, television, or radio if you feel that these things will tempt you -- unless, of course, you are using them as practice tools. If you live in a house with other people, try to practice when no one else is home so that they will not interrupt you, and so they won't distract you if they are listening to loud music or watching television in another part of the house.
Another important practice tip is to set both long-term and short-term goals. If you have a private teacher, vocal coach, band director, or choir instructor, they will be able to help you set realistic goals. Goals are important because they help you track your progress over time, and they give you something to work toward. It is very gratifying to look back and see how you have improved over time.
The single most important goal is to have fun. There will be days when you really don't feel like practicing, and that's fine. If you don't feel like practicing, then set your instrument down for a little while and try coming back to it later. You should enjoy playing music, not resent it. However, it also takes discipline, so try to practice for at least thirty minutes a day. If you do that, then you are sure to reach the goals that you have set!