What is Practicing?

This article is such a good reminder of what should actually be happening in the practice room. Some of my favorite points:

1. “… the majority of folks practice rather mindlessly, either engaging in mere repetition (“practice this passage 10 times” or “practice this piece for 30 minutes”) or practicing on autopilot (that’s when we play through the piece until we hear something we don’t like, stop, repeat the passage again until it sounds better, and resume playing through the piece until we hear the next thing we aren’t satisfied with, at which point we begin this whole process over again).” It’s a “waste of time”, a confidence killer (since you don’t actually get consistently better when you practice this way), it’s a total chore and it doesn’t prepare you to perform.

2. Deliberate practice, on the other hand, is intentional, goal-oriented and experimental playing. Be clear about what you want to achieve in your practice session and, if you notice yourself drifting into mindless playing, stop, make a goal, and get creative about achieving that goal. What I like to tell my students is to make goals before they sit down to practice. This way, they have a mission to achieve rather than just an hour to fill with cello noise.

3. Practice “smarter, not harder”. If it feels like you’re banging your head against a wall when trying to learn a difficult passage, try something new. When one of my students was having a hard time getting beautiful tone while playing the Prelude to Bach’s 1st Suite, we experimented with what she should concentrate on before she started the piece. Get clever about getting what you want from your practice sessions.

4. Basically, “it doesn’t matter if we are talking about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought, and clearly articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time.” You’re not practicing (I hope!) to say you practiced; you’re practicing to sound and feel better on the cello. If you keep that intention, you’re well on your way to effective, feel-good practicing.