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Dividing your Practice Time

Dividing your Practice Time

Becoming a good musician obviously involves an investment of time. Professional musicians are known to practice many hours, though this is usually broken up into segments. Segovia used to practice in sessions of one and a quarter hours with a break in between. Usually this would involve two sessions in the morning and a third in the afternoon. Sometimes there was even a fourth, depending on circumstances such as travel, performances, etc. A few very fortunate virtuosi are able to maintain a high performance level with less practice. This usually relates to extraordinary natural aptitude and a start in early childhood.

Most people do not have unlimited practice time, so it becomes important to divide up what is available into the most productive segments. A smaller amount of practice on a daily basis achieves more than a periodic onslaught. The latter can produce overstrained muscles and tendons and becomes counterproductive after an hour or two. Daily practice develops the muscles evenly and maintains them in peak form.

Practice time needs to be divided so as to cover certain main topics. These include:

  1. Purely technical practice for muscular development and maintenance.
  2. Work on the current new piece.
  3. Some sight-reading of new material.
  4. Performance of existing repertoire.

The first phase is important for the improvement and maintenance of mechanical skills. It is rewarding in the sense that results are seen fairly quickly. However, technique should not become the only goal because it is the means, not the end. This phase is best done first, because it serves to warm up the fingers.

Phase two involves the process of learning a new piece, from initial reading to final memorization and polishing. It is good to do this early in the practice period when the mind is fresh and able to cope with the necessary detailed concentration.

Phase three is probably the one most neglected by amateurs. However, the results of reading even one line of unknown music a day are phenomenal. A surprisingly good level of reading can be achieved in a year, particularly if a separate effort is made to learn the keyboard really well.

The final phase is probably the most enjoyable and should not be neglected. It involves the playing of repertoire that has already been learned and memorized, mainly for pleasure but with the advantage of some polishing of the final version. This also keeps a number of pieces available for performance, should the occasion arise. A good player will want to perform, whether for friends and family, at a guitar society, or at some more formal venue.

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