Here is the author’s bio from his website :
Tom Heany has been involved with musician his whole life, as a student, a teacher, a player, a writer and, yes, a practicer – for 13,000 hours, give or take a few.For 18 years he was the Director of Programming for the National Music Foundation, where he developed and ran the American Music Education Initiative and the Berkshire Music Festival. As a contributing editor for the National Guitar Workshop, he wrote about musical subjects ranging from the Grammy Awards to Tuvan throat-singing. For WorkshopLive, NGW’s online learning platform, he interviewed guitar, bass and piano teachers about their views on practicing, performing and playing.
This book distills his years of wisdom in 90 odd pages. Learning any musical instrument involves a huge amount of time “practicing” and very small amount of time “playing”. What’s the difference between the two terms ? In the former you have a mechanic type of mindset that involves tearing apart long compositions, repeating difficult notes, improving and fixing your errors, trying to build muscle memory , listening to others renditions, writing notes etc. On the other hand, “playing” involves invoking muscle memory, working memory and long term memory to give a performance in front of a public or a private audience.
In any budding artist’s life, the proportion of practice time is obviously very high. But what constitutes a good practice session ? If you play effortlessly for let’s say 15 min daily, does it mean that you have had a good practice session ? If you are not struggling in practice, then are you really learning anything new ? How does one deal with the inevitable frustrations that arise when one starts practicing any instrument on a regular basis ? These and many more questions are answered by this book. They say that visuals are the best way to store and retrieve information and this book does exactly that. For each of the components of a good practice session, it creates little symbols that can serve as anchor points for any person who is practicing / wants to practice an instrument on a regular basis. Some of the points mentioned in the book look obvious when you read them. But to be consciously aware of them before, during and after a practice session is the key.
Here are 7 key ideas from the book that are to be kept in mind before/during/after a practice session :
Here are the 7 habits mentioned in the book that helps you practice better:
Be Comfortable :
It’s important to be comfortable while you practice. If you’re comfortable, you’ll practice longer. If you’re comfortable, your body will be relaxed, your breathing will be more natural, and your hands, arms, shoulders, etc. will be freer to move.
|Be Honest :
When you practice, every sound is your doing – after all, you’re the only one there. Wrong notes, weak notes, bad tone, grunts, sighs – whether you mean them or not, they’re all yours. You have to control them, and to do that you have to know – and admit – that you’re making them.
|Be Optimistic :
There are things you can do, and things you can’t do yet. Remember that people all over the world, for hundreds of years, have been learning to play musical instruments. They’ve all gone through the same frustration, and they’ve all learned to do what you’re learning to do. So don’t worry. You’ll get there. In an hour of practice you’ll make literally thousands of small motions and small decisions. They’ll add up to an inch of progress on a good day. The process is slow; it requires patience. But it’s real.
| Be Persistent :
When you’re practicing, and you’re dealing with something that seems hard to do, the easiest thing in the world is to give up. That’s what most people do. Either they stop practicing completely, or they stop working on the things they can’t do yet and just play the things they already know. Sometimes they just go through the motions, stumbling through a piece or an exercise over and over without concentrating on it. That’s not practicing – that’s fooling around. And it’s not even good fooling around, because it’s a lousy way to spend your time. If you’re not enjoying it, change it until you do.
People who lift weights know that the real progress happens when they keep going after their bodies and minds tell them to stop. When you practice, you have to do the same. You have to be persistent.
Persistence is partly just making a plan for your practice session and sticking with it. But it’s more than just that. If you decide you’re going to practice for 15 minutes, you don’t stop at 11 minutes. You complete the tasks you set for yourself. But if you’re bored at 11 minutes, don’t stop, and don’t just soldier on, either – first, get un-bored. Find a way to make it interesting. If it’s too hard, don’t stop, don’t soldier on – find a way to make it simpler, and continue practicing. That’s persistence in a nut shell – Find a way, and continue.
| Be Consistent :
Practice works best when you do it every day. Some people would say that’s pretty much the only way it works. Being consistent means practicing the right way, every day. Being consistent means being persistent every day.
Many of the things you’re trying to learn are small movements that are hard to describe in words. (“It sounds better when my fingers go like this instead of like that.”) In order to be able to repeat these movements, you have to be able to remember how your hands feel or look when you make them. You can’t really write them down, and that makes them hard to remember. If you let a few days elapse between practice sessions, you’ll forget them, and you’ll have to find them all over again. It will be as though your last practice session never happened. Being consistent means you have a plan, you stick to it, and you do it every day. Practicing every day is much more important than practicing for a particular amount of time. 20 minutes a day works better than 60 minutes every three days. Consistency makes all the difference. It’s the best way to get there.
Consistency works for another reason. You can’t be consistent without commitment. You can’t make a practice plan, and a schedule, and stick to it for any length of time, without making some kind of promise to yourself. Being consistent means you have jumped in with both feet. It means you have told yourself, “I want to be a musician, and if this is what it takes then I’m going to do it. No excuses, no distractions.” That’s a powerful promise.
|Go Slow :
Practicing slowly makes it easier for you to focus on the mechanics – that is, on what your hands, arms, shoulders, breath, etc. are doing.
Practicing slowly makes it easier for you to focus on the mechanics – that is, on what your hands, arms, shoulders, breath, etc. are doing. This is because the slower you go, the less what you’re working on sounds like music. The less it sounds like music, the easier it is to ignore. And if you’re going to concentrate on the motion, you have to ignore the music.
Practicing slowly encourages relaxation in your hands and arms. Practicing fast does the opposite.
Practicing slowly makes mistakes impossible to overlook.
| Make Music :
Make Music means to build a musical intention, a musical attitude, a musical effect, into every note, every rest, every finger movement, every breath. When you hit that target, you’ll be unable to play any other way. You want musicality to be something automatic, requiring no thought. The only way to get there is note by note, every time.
The book contains some valuable ideas that one can keep in mind while practicing any instrument. I loved the idea of Music Journal for every practice session. By merely recording some specific aspects of every session, one can be aware of a ton of things as you go along. There’s also an iPad app (Music Journal) for the same.