Whether it is an athlete, and artist, a musician, or a craftsman, we have all at some point been inspired by a master executing their craft well. When we are watching these individuals employ their specific skill sets, it is easy to get lost in the performance and not understand what is required to achieve a high level of excellence.
In short, it is practice. Specifically, it is high-quality practice done on a regular basis.
There are many factors to consider when forming a practice routine. Here are some of the factors that I discuss with my students:
When to Practice and Duration
My students range from young children with after-school activities to adults with family and employment commitments, and each presents unique challenges when finding time to practice. My younger students will normally practice after school or during free periods at school. My adult students will often practice in the evenings. I myself practice in the portions of time between the classes and lessons that I teach.
Regardless of when you practice, it is important to choose a time that will afford you the least amount of distractions. Go to a quiet place. Turn off your phone. Clear your mind. Treat the time as if it were sacred. Framing a practice session as if it were a somber time of reverence (i.e., a worship service) will ensure that the time that you set aside can be maximized. That is, 45 minutes of practice time will actually get 45 minutes of work done.
As for duration, I recommend 20 to 45 minutes a day. Whatever amount you choose, be sure to make it quality time. 20 minutes of focused and undistracted practice will accomplish much more than an hour of distracted practice.
What to Practice
This is determined by your upcoming commitments, and by “commitments” I mean “the things that need attention prior to a given event to assure an acceptable performance.”
This is different for everyone. The “event” for a beginning to intermediate student may be the next lesson. Students should consider forming a “to-do list” for the time between lessons, ensuring that weaknesses are addressed while strengths are reinforced. (Be sure to work on the skill sets that lack proficiency. Practicing only the things that you enjoy will not make you a better player.)
The event for the advanced player may be the next upcoming performance. In that case, time will be spent ensuring that the repertoire is adequately prepared and/or memorized.
Develop a Ritual
“Ritual” sounds like such a heavy concept, but what I mean by this is a set of actions and habits that you will perform as part of every practice session or performance. It is different for everybody. Here is my usual “ritual” before every practice session and performance:
Alternating down and up strokes at a slow to moderate tempo, gradually increasing tempo as I warm up.
“Gridding” accents and/or open tones:
Dudu Dudu Dudu Dudu
dUdu dUdu dUdu dUdu
duDu duDu duDu duDu
dudU dudU dudU dudU
(The uppercase letters represent accented or open notes, and the lowercase letters represent unaccented or muted notes.)
3. Single- and double-ended triplet exercises.
(These and other exercises can be found in The Bodhrán Primer.)
These serve to focus and prepare me every time I play. By adhering to these prescribed exercises prior to every practice session or performance, I can begin each session with a familiar and consistent feeling of focus and preparation.
Keep a Practice Log and/or Goals Sheet
Keeping a log of what you have practiced can be a great way to track your progress. Having a list of goals in a conspicuous place can serve as a reminder of what you are working towards. (I keep a journal of “licks” and concepts that I want to work on in a Moleskine notebook and a list of goals above my disc. More on The Notebook in a later blog post.)
Remind Yourself Why You Devote Time to Practice
The best way to make this point is to quote Doug Yeo:
If you practice, you get better.
If you get better, you play with better players.
If you play with better players, you play better music.
If you play better music, you have more fun.
If you have fun, you want to practice more.
If you practice more, you get better…
So yes, practice can be time consuming and inconvenient. But the reward for committing to consistent practice means greater ability on the drum, which in turn leads to more rewarding and enjoyable musical experiences.