There are many, many misconceptions around practice. These arise because pupils are not taught how to do it. These pupils listen to their peers, here say and internet discussion forums (we all know how reliable they are!). The ideas they hear are taken on board and spread further and eventually develop into accepted ‘truths’.
30 minutes per day
If you eavesdrop on a conversation most people have around practice it will usually involve discussion about how much practice they have done, how long they spent on a certain exercise, how much their teacher has said they should do and one-upmanship about how much they managed in a single day.
This is perhaps the single biggest myth around music practice. The fact that anybody needs to do a set amount of practice. This is, to be blunt, complete nonsense. If your only measure of practice is time the chances are that you are wasting it.
Instead try to think of other measures. What speed can you get to? How many bars can you complete? How much can you memorise? How many new notes can you learn?
Use one of these measures and you will achieve something and more to the point you will know exactly what improvement you made.
Faster is better
In the race to be the next greatest player on their instrument many players develop an unhealthy obsession with speed. To some being able to player faster than anyone else is the be all and end all.
The more experienced player and teacher will know that faster is not better. Faster is quite often, messy, out of tune and unmusical.
Instead strive to be as accurate as you can, speed will come from accuracy.
Practicing sounds musical
This is something parents think they know, students believe and teachers should know better.
If done properly practising should sound disjointed, bitty, repetitive and definitely not musical. Stop and think about it for a moment. Fixing problems, focusing on a few bars at a time, technical exercises and repeats are all important things to work on when practising. None however will sound close to a finished performance.
Playing through the pain barrier
Some inexperienced players seem to derive a macho pride from playing through the pain barrier.
If you have been shredding on your guitar for hours and your hands are starting to hurt it may just be that your body is trying to tell you something? Likewise pianists are just as guilty. Those finger independence exercises are not meant to leave your hands bruised and swollen. Wind players too are guilty of playing through bruised and swollen lips.
If you feel your muscles starting to get tired stop and take a break. There are hundreds of things you can do to improve as a musician without your instrument. You can make sure that you are completely on top of the mental aspects of playing before returning to your instrument with fresh muscles.
Finally something which many, many teachers, parents and students are guilty of – believing that the student should be improving all the time.
Parents will believe that because they are paying for lessons the student must improve. The teacher will think that because they are teaching in a certain way the student will improve. The student, who practises regularly will also believe that they should improve.
The reality is somewhat different. Development goes in peaks and troughs. Some weeks the student will seem to make amazing progress while others they will get bogged down in the same few bars. Don’t worry. This happens to most musicians.
What myths around practice have you heard? I’d love to know. Leave them in the comments below.