How often do you go into a practice room with a plan? A plan of exactly what it is you’re going to do in that room, and when you’re going to do it? A minute by minute rundown of exactly what you’re going to practice, and when?
In our studies, and especially when we are working in the field, it is extremely easy to just “go through the motions” and daily life to creep into the practice room. This in turn allows our practice to become extremely disorganized and passive. Just having the horn on the face isn’t enough, there must be focus, intention and retention.
In organizing ourselves for the most effective practice we must first, “Tidy our minds”.
A tidy mind is a mind free of needless clutter. This clutter arises from irrelevancies, asides, distractions, unimportant details, trivia, and the like that can fill the mind and detract from learning and pursuing the most important things.
Especially in this day and age of information overload, and technology that is attached to our hips, it is so easy to become distracted, unfocused and unorganized. One of my professors, Peter Ellefson always says, technology can be a disease in the practice room, but it is easily curable (AIRPLANE MODE, or OUTSIDE THE ROOM).
Secondly, we need to learn how to control the time we have. The aspects of our practice in which we can organize, we should.
How do we make the most of the small amount of time we have in that little room?
Organization, and preparation before we enter the room.
Here are some hints to help you stay organized and on task in your practice room (other than turning your phone off, or removing yourself from social media).
The average attention span of the human brain is 5 minutes. Although, we’re able to refocus our attentions on one particular thing for roughly 20 minutes at a time. I would bet that it is even less now, but in an effort to maximize the retention of our sessions, limit yourself to 20 minute increments of practice on any given thing. For example, a warm-up session should include 10 minutes of long-tones, 10 minutes of slurs, 10 minutes of articulation exercises, 10 minutes of scales and 10 minutes of range extension. If you’re working on excerpts, limit yourself to 15-20 per excerpt. This not only keeps your brain active, but doesn’t allow you to get bogged down on one aspect of your playing.
Set a timer! Set the timer, and get lost in your own focus, when the timer goes off, you’re done. Often times, we think we keep ourselves on schedule, when in reality, we aren’t even close. Keeping yourself honest with the time can make a big difference in the efficiency of the practice
Make a daily schedule. Making a daily or weekly schedule and bringing it into the practice room with you can help to organize your thoughts beforehand, and allow all of the focus to be on the work that needs to be done musically or fundamentally.
Keep a notebook (or recordings) of practice sessions. This helps specially to retain and re-engage what you have been working on, and what needs to be worked on for future sessions. Documenting everything allows you to not have to store that knowledge in your often overworked brain, and allows you to effectively plan your practice sessions for the upcoming days and weeks based on concrete material you’ve documented.
Keep your materials organized and ready to go. All too often, do we waste tons of time looking for a book, or excerpt or etude. Organizing all of these into one place, easily accessible and in order, seems like a trite thing, but can save a lot of time and energy that can be used for music-making.
Take breaks to reflect. Extremely focused and organized practice only works well if we take time to rest our minds and reflect on what we’ve just done, or are trying to accomplish. The all-mighty Arnold Jacobs’ refers to this as wearing two-hats. One of intense focus and preparation, and one of rest and reflection. Reflection also helps as mental practice, as our physical muscles can only take so much stimulation before they need a break as well.
Of course, the hardest part of all of this, is to be consistent with your preparation. Creating a routine, and being organized and structured over a consistent period of time will elicit great a great seriousness, fantastic discipline and will no doubt improve many skills, musical and beyond.