"Perfect Practice Makes Perfect"

One of the most common things I hear when talking with other musicians is that, “I practice and practice, but I don’t seem to be going anywhere…”   This is the unfortunate case for many musicians.   They spend hours and hours trying to get better only to realize that they aren’t growing much at all.  I myself have gone through that same thing and it can be very frustrating.  I have since made a few modifications to my practice habits that have allowed me to see growth QUICKER with LESS practice time.  After all there are only so many hours in the day and if you have a day job and kids you know that those hours can get filled up pretty quickly.  It’s no big secret but it will require you to break some old habits.   The answer is NOT “Practice Makes Perfect”, but “PERFECT Practice Makes Perfect”.

Now you may be asking yourself what you can be doing more than you already are to get the most out of your practice time.   Well let me describe two musicians to you so you can see the difference.  Instead of using Musician A and Musician B, I am going to give them names.  Musician A = Curtis and Musician B = Charlene. 

Let’s take a look at how Curtis practices:

Curtis sits down at the piano and starts to play some scales.  He starts on the C Major Scale and works his way up chromatically (by Half Steps) to G.  After he finishes the G Major scale, he starts to think of the song that he heard on the radio.  He hums the melody and tries to remember the chords.  He is able to pick some of them out but not all.  He then gets frustrated after 45min and starts working on some hot progressions that a friend taught him.    He spends another 45min working out these progressions and trying to see where else he can take them.  After he gets bored with that, he then starts working on a song he has been writing for 3 years, but just never got around to finishing.  This lasts for about 1 hour.  He then doodles on the piano for an hour and calls it a night.  Curtis’ total practice time is 3.5 hours.

Now let’s take a look at Charlene:

Charlene sits down at the piano with her practice journal and metronome in hand.  She opens the journal and looks to see if there is anything left over from her previous practice session that she needs to work on.  There is nothing. So she writes the current date in her journal signifying the start of this session.  She then writes “Major Scales around the Circle of Fourths” and sets her metronome at 80 bpm (Beats per Minute).  She then proceeds to practice her major scales around the Circle of Fourths first at normal time and again at double time.  When she’s done, she writes down the time it took her to complete the scales and the tempo which was 5min.  Now that she is warmed up, she writes in her journal “Progression Exercises”.  With the metronome still set to 80 bpm, she works though Major 2-5-1, Minor 2-5-1, 1-4, 1-6-2-5-1, 6-2-5-1, 3-6-2-5-1, and 7-3-6-2-5-1 progressions ALL around the Circle of Fourths.  She then writes in her journal 20 min.  She also makes a note that she was having some problems with Minor 2-5-1 progressions.  She will ask someone about that later.  Now that she has the fundamentals out of the way, she pulls out her choir book.  (Charlene plays for the church choir)  She writes in her journal “Practice choir song (Awesome God) for Sunday.”  She puts the CD into the CD player and listens to it one time all the way through. While she is listening, she identifies the key and any key changes that may occur in the song.   She then sets it back to the beginning and plays again and begins learning the song.  When she is done, she writes 35 min.   She reflects on the practice and feels good about it.  She knows she will need to work on the song more, but she has 6 more days until Sunday.  She feels that she will be ready by Wednesday, but right now she has to get dinner ready for the kids.  Charlene's total practice time is 1 hour.

So we have seen two individuals and how they both practice.   Which one do you think would get the most out of their practice time?  … Charlene is very focused in her practice time.  She has a journal and is able to review what she did in her last practice session so she knows not to spend too much time on it in the current session.   Curtis on the other hand, lacks focus in his practice session and ends up all over the place.  He doesn’t really identify any areas that he needs to work on.  He just kind of goes with whatever. 

It is very important to be extremely focused in your practice time.  You should always have these aspects included:

Warm-ups – Scales or Finger exercises

Fundamentals – Scales and Progressions (Also reading, even if it’s at a basic level)

Ear Training – Playing a song by ear, learning intervals, chord qualities (Major vs Minor)

Extra stuff – Learning a song, Improvisation

Having these elements will allow you to get the most out of your time so that you can achieve great results quicker.  Since I started doing this, I have noticed a tremendous increase in my ability to play.  Remember that FOCUS and CONSISTENCY is the key to getting where you want musically.  Try it and let me know your results.  Always remember "PERFECT Practice Makes Perfect".


Letron Brantley (CEO & Founder)
GospelSkillz.com

 

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Comments

  • 7/24/2007 12:28 AM cap wrote:
    Thank you!!
    Thia makes so much since.
    C.A.P.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/8/2007 1:51 PM Letron Brantley wrote:
      C.A.P.

      I'm glad you were able to get what you needed out of this. I will be posting some more lessons soon so make sure you subscribe.
      Reply to this
  • 8/3/2007 6:38 AM Joseph D. Roe wrote:
    This is so important, I mean really really important because if a person is practicing wrong; there's nothing right about it at all. Bad habits in the practice of an aspiring musician can be detrimentally fatal. Most people regard professionalism as a high standard of ones craft and perfect practice brings a forte' of success. It's crystal clear when heard and pleasingly smooth to the soul and spirit. WOW, to mention anything about practicing perfect is a plus on the character of this website...GREAT!!! This has helped me more than you'll ever know. Thanks a million...

    Joseph D. Roe
    Reply to this
    1. 8/8/2007 1:54 PM Letron Brantley wrote:
      Joseph,

      Your absolutely right. As a beginner, it is important to develop good habits in your practice time. If you do this, it can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes for you to get to that next level. Stay tuned for more lessons soon.

      Letron Brantley
      CEO & Founder
      GospelSkillz.com
      Reply to this
      1. 8/8/2007 8:12 PM Joseph D. Roe wrote:
        Letrom, when I'm away from home,I see myself practicing in my room going from the piano to the computer. I LOVE IT WITH ALL MY HEART. One day I'll play like I've dreamed of. It's something about the sound of the piano that ignites me down in my very soul and spirit. Thanks for all your help!
        I'll be so glad when I can say that I am a professional pianist...MAN!!!

        Joseph D. Roe
        Reply to this
      2. 8/8/2007 8:15 PM Joseph D. Roe wrote:
        I long await your lessons and I am as excited as a kid in a candy store...

        Joseph D. Roe
        Reply to this
  • 8/23/2007 10:30 AM Danielle wrote:
    Oh my! I was Curtis!!!! Thanks so much for posting this. My practice definitely lacks focus, but I'm now excited about perfecting my practice.
    Reply to this
    1. 8/31/2007 1:16 PM Letron Brantley (CEO) wrote:
      Danielle,

      You would be surprised at how many Curtis' we have out there. I myself had to make a big change in the way I practiced. The goal is to keep striving for consistent and focused practice. Eventually, it will become second nature.

      Letron
      Reply to this
  • 8/23/2007 1:16 PM Brian wrote:
    God is good. I JUST emailed my new piano teacher 45 minutes before reading this about suggestions on HOW TO PRACTICE!!I've been playing in church for about 4 years but now I'm taking classical and I have noticed that I am like musician A above. I never thought about keeping a journal but believe...will start TODAY. Thanks!!!
    Reply to this
    1. 8/31/2007 1:20 PM Letron Brantley (CEO) wrote:
      Brian,

      It's great that you have a teacher. Make sure that you let your teach know what your ultimate goals are. They can then structure your lessons to help you get there quicker. Keeping a journal is great. You don't HAVE to have one but if you do, it helps you to stay focused in your practice time.

      Letron
      Reply to this
  • 8/27/2007 10:55 AM Sharon wrote:
    What's the best way to go about the "ear training" portion of a practice session?
    Reply to this
    1. 8/31/2007 2:04 PM Letron Brantley (CEO) wrote:
      Sharon,

      That's an EXCELLENT question! Ear training is the key to playing by ear.

      You're going to hate me. I started writing a response, but after it got so long, I decided to make it a separate blog entry. I will have it done by Monday if not before.

      See what happens when you ask good questions?!!

      :o)
      Letron
      Reply to this
  • 8/27/2007 4:43 PM Bobby wrote:
    Thanks for giving us an A & B selection of examples. I think I'll be like Musician B and start keeping a journal next to my keyboard to help track my progress.

    Also, Letron do you think its a good idea to invest in a 88-keyboard instead of practicing on a 61-key board?
    Reply to this
    1. 8/31/2007 3:02 PM Letron Brantley (CEO) wrote:
      Bobby,

      You don't HAVE to have an 88 key keyboard. If you do have one then that's just icing on the cake. Most action occurs between C2 and C7 on the keyboard anyway, but if you have that full 88keys, then you can make use of the entire range of the instrument.

      Another thing to consider is weighted, versus non-weighted keys. This is purely up to you the individual. Many musicians like working with non-weighted keys, but you have some who just prefer the weight resistance of the fully weighted keys.


      Letron
      Reply to this
  • 9/1/2007 11:30 PM Joseph D. Roe wrote:
    Yes,Yes,Yes...a journal does keep you focused because when you see what's written on paper;it does something to your mind if there is no progress. Mentally you push to do better than what's written previously. I have kept
    my practice session going of at least 8
    to 10 hours a day and when I play in the music stores, people can't believe I've been playing serious for 3 months.
    Journals keep you in competition with yourself...REALLY!!!

    DRoe
    Reply to this
  • 10/16/2007 11:41 AM Deyquan Bowens wrote:
    First off all there is no perfect way to practice because simply nothing is perfect.You can not say that being focused and good habits make perfect practing especially if you don't explain them either. Second know that practicing and rehearsing are different. When you practice you are working on something new that your weak at but when you rehearse you are doing someting you have done before and you really can't see self improvement doing the same thing. On the other hand good practicing involes figuring out what your weakness are and work at them until they get better.
    Reply to this
    1. 10/20/2007 7:56 PM Letron Brantley (CEO GospelSkillz.com) wrote:
      I agree that there are very few things in life that are perfect, but perfect is relative. What might be perfect to you might not be perfect for me.

      However, I disagree with you when you say, "You can not say that being focused and good habits make perfect practicing." Achieving a state of focus in anything means that you are getting into a deep concentrative state. There are such things as bad habits and good habits. A bad habit would be to practice with no real goal in mind. Will it kill you to practice with no goal in mind...absolutely not. But smoking cigarettes for a year won't kill you either and it is still a bad habit. My point in the article was to encourage musicians to focus their practice time so they can get the most out of it. The phrase "Perfect Practice Makes Perfect" is not new or is it anything I invented. This phrased was coined in response to the need by many musicians (Jazz, Gospel, Country, Blues, etc) to practice more efficiently.

      You said, "On the other hand good practicing involes figuring out what your weakness are and work at them until they get better." I agree with this statement. This what many consider a perfect practice. As you practice those things you are weak in, you strengthen yourself.

      Thanks for the comment. You brought up some good points.
      Reply to this
  • 4/2/2008 1:16 PM Lei wrote:
    Your article really gave me a wake up call. I am going to try and set aside specific time to practice. I am stagnant right now in my playing and really want to grow...I guess I need to practice, practice, practice.
    Reply to this
  • 4/2/2008 5:38 PM Joseph D. Roe wrote:
    My father taught me years ago that only
    perfect practice makes perfect. All else
    is of no avail. Didn't quite understand it then but I got it later. Paying close
    attention to what a teacher is saying is
    of utmost importance. I mean down to the
    the inth degree. Twenty of practice aday
    is better than 8 hours of practice only
    on Saturday. FACT!!! Be encouraged and
    keep at it. An hour aday 5 to 6 days a
    week is always the BEST, but do some
    type of practicing, OK... Bless you!!!

    Joseph D. Roe
    Reply to this
  • 4/22/2008 11:15 AM His Voice wrote:
    I understand those situations very clear. On somedays I'm like Charlene and sometimes like charles.
    Reply to this
  • 5/22/2008 10:50 AM carole w wrote:
    i am having a hard time trying to learn how to play chords. I can pick out the tunes but not able to form the full chord. please help me in what i need to start practicing to learn how to play songs....
    Reply to this
  • 1/22/2009 12:31 PM Kimberly wrote:
    Thanks so much. I was more like Curtis. I was getting no where with my playing. I would practice but you could not tell the difference. I will start keeping a journal so that I can see my progress. Thanks for the info.
    Reply to this
  • 10/28/2009 5:20 AM prophet wrote:
    wow, i've learnt something quiet good 2day.infact i was like curtis but now i think i need to be like Charlene.thanks
    Reply to this
  • 4/5/2010 11:34 AM Emmett wrote:
    Do you have suggestions for specific books showing the different scales and progressions in a cycle of fourths format. Also books for ear training and improvising.
    Reply to this
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