Learning how to practice is one of the most important lessons you can learn as a musician.
When you first learn to play, practicing is mostly repetition. To some extent, that’s always going to be true, and most great players spent many hours with their instrument when they were young and had all the time in the world. At some point, though, that honeymoon ends and the need for efficiency takes over. Professionals generally have a limited amount of time to learn and perfect a performance, so one of the skills a pro develops is the ability to practice effectively: to maximize the impact of the time spent.
This starts with recognizing that there are different kinds of practicing that accomplish different things:
- Pure technical practice for skill development
- Targeted problem-solving practice within a specific piece of music
- Developing fluidity and flow
Practicing technique is not sexy. No one picked up a guitar to learn scales and finger exercises. But targeted, deliberate work on one small thing at a time is a very effective way to develop your accuracy and control. Many people neglect this kind of practice. Just as many others practice too casually and too fast. Your goal should always be for accuracy over speed. It’s target practice, so learn to take aim at the bullseye.
On the other hand, too many people don’t practice performing songs they already know how to play. You need to really spend time playing a song all the way through from beginning to end to develop real confidence and flow. You should also look to end every practice session with something that feels good to play.
“Balanced” practice means that you divide your time between the different aspects of practicing. Deliberate mechanical work build your fine control and coordination. Performing whole songs builds your overall musicianship and feeds the love that made you start playing in the first place.