4 Strategies to Improve Your Practice Sessions...

Courtesy of Liam Duncan

When I first started to take practicing seriously, I was intimidated by my peers who claimed to practice nine hours a day, or wake up at 5:00 a.m. and practice until noon... 

When I sat down with the intention to practice for six-plus hours, I would be distracted within two hours and start out the session dreading the whole affair. The fact is, I’m simply not cut out for eight-hour practice sessions. I sit at the piano for hours and barely get anything done.

Since then, I’ve changed my practice routine to be focused on quality over quantity, and let me tell you, my life is changed! Here are some techniques I use to make the most of my practice time.

1. Use a practice journal
When I was in university, I went to the same gym as my piano prof. We saw each other there almost every day, and he noted that I used a little book to keep track of my progress. He pointed out that I should be doing the same thing for my practice! Since then my journal has become a constant companion in my practice. You should use one too! Here’s why:

Goal setting: With a journal, it’s easy to set goals and track your progress from day to day. You can also look back over entire months and easily see your progress.

Organization: No more wondering what you’re going to practice today! With a journal, you set rough time limits on each part of your practice according to your goals. Then you record your progress, accomplishments, and setbacks.

Reflection: At the end of every week and month, I reflect on what I’ve accomplished and plan for the time ahead. I use a modified version of bullet journaling to set a schedule, give myself specific goals/tasks, and reflect on my practice.

2. Try the Pomodoro technique
If you’re like me, sitting down and just "practicing" for four to eight hours is basically a waste of time. If I give myself one to three hours to practice, carefully plan out my practice, and give myself breaks, I get way more accomplished.

You’ve probably heard of the Pomodoro technique: essentially, you work on something for 25 minutes uninterrupted and then give yourself a short break. Every four "work periods," give yourself a longer break.

This makes for great practice. When you’re tackling a big project, it’s often hard to just bring yourself to get started! With this technique, you make an oath to yourself that you'll work on something for just 25 minutes, and when you’re done, you can cross it off your practice schedule and take a quick break. I use the breaks to write in my journal, get up and stretch, make coffee, etc.

3. Set practical deadlines
Even if you do all of the above, sometimes the hardest thing about practicing is figuring out what to actually work on. In university, it was easy – I had gigs, constant rehearsals, lessons, etc. Lots of fodder for practice.

I’m still a deadline-oriented person, so I need new projects to motivate my practice. Sometimes that means booking myself a gig. Other times, I have to make my own deadlines. Make a commitment to record and release a new cover video or original song once a week or once a month. You don’t need to stress yourself out, you just need to have something to work towards. That way you can break down your to-do list.

4. Rehearse efficiently with a band
The last thing I want to touch on is rehearsing efficiently. These are my three tips.

Record your rehearsals
I don’t know why I haven’t always done this, but seriously, how are you supposed to know what you even sound like? My band is lucky enough to rehearse in a home studio, so we get to multitrack all of our rehearsals. But if all you have is an iPhone, that works! You'll learn so much from recording your rehearsals. From groove to time to harmonies, all is revealed in a recording!

Make an agenda
It’s not very rock 'n' roll, but as a band, you always have things to work on. Then you get to rehearsal and immediately forget them. Instead, write things down, make a schedule, and stick to it.

Take your rehearsal back to your personal practice
If everyone has a recording and an agenda, it’s easy to make notes on what should be worked on and take those notes back to your personal practice. Trust me, it’s a good feeling coming to every rehearsal and sounding better than the last time. The best part? Listening to old rehearsals and seeing how far you’ve come!

At the end of the day, I do all of this to make music more fun. Music doesn’t need to be stressful, and I believe that a little planning can go a long way towards having a joyful music-making experience!

Liam Duncan is a full-time musician from Winnipeg, Canada. He likes to record music with friends and tour with The Middle Coast.