The Art of Practicing

We all know the old joke. A man is walking down the streets of Manhattan and someone approaches him for directions asking, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The man replies back, “practice, practice, practice”. No truer words have ever been spoken. But this begs the question: do we really know how to practice?

Practice is defined as “to perform an activity or exercise repeatedly or regularly in order to improve ones’s proficiency.” The keys to successful practice time are in the definition itself; repeatedly and regularly. In this blog, I hope to offer some insights into how to make the most of our practice time and keep it fun and challenging at the same time all while keeping realistic goals in mind.

If you are like me, you have very little time to practice. Between my time as a practicing music therapist, a private instructor, gym time, rehearsing and gigging and various social engagements, I have to use my personal practice time very wisely. Bottom line is this: if I  find time to practice, you do also! One does not have to practice 12 hours a day to became a master of their instrument, although if you have the time and the drive I say go for it! All you need is some focus, quiet time and a plan and you will see results in no time. Here are some general guidelines I use myself and recommend to students.

Be Consistent

Set the same time aside everyday. Make practicing part of your daily routine and stick to it! It doesn’t matter if it is before breakfast, before your homework or before you go to bed, set a time and stick to it. The time of day doesn’t matter, the commitment does. The late great Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day, two and half hours in the morning and two and a half hours in the afternoon. As a matter of fact, he passed away in between practice sessions! Now thats dedication. I am not saying to practice five hours a day but you have to admire his dedication to consistency.

Set Small Goals

Here is where diligent planning and working smart instead of hard can work to your benefit. Instead of working on a piece for hours, break it up into sections and practice smaller amounts of time then string the parts together much like and actor or actress memorizing the lines in a play. This is an excellent practice strategy if you are pressed for time. For example, lets say you want to play the lead from “All Along The Watchtower” from Jimi Hendrix.

You can start working on the first two measures today, master them then work on the next two measures tomorrow. The day after that you can link them together and the next thing you know, you have the first lead down. This approach can be used for any type of music at any level whether you are a beginner playing Mel Bay Book One, working on the chord changes to “My Favorite Things”or learning “Etude No. 1″ by Villa Lobos. The key is setting simple daily goals and being consistent throughout.

Stay Focused

You need to get rid of all distractions during your practice time. Turn off that cell phone, computer, Twitter, Facebook etc etc etc. Put your blinders on, get focused, get down to it and don’t jive.

The Myth of Memorization

Memorization is born out of consistency and repetition. If you play something long enough, your brain will have no choice but to absorb it. Are there geniuses like Mozart who can bypass this? Yes! But for the rest of us, we just have to play something until we, our friends and family and pets are sick of hearing it.

You develop muscle memory if you work at something long enough. With muscle memory, the movements you have to make to play something just become involuntary, almost as if your fingers, hands and brain have “memorized” the actions for you. This is where we want to be. We want to practice something so well that when it comes time to play, we don’t have to think about it.

Be Tenacious

A wise man once said, “what you lack in talent and you make up for in tenacity.” Never ever ever give up. You and I can play anything! Undoubtedly there will be musicians you meet who may have more raw natural talent than you. There is nothing more common than an unemployed talented person. Talent is one step away from lazy. Bottom line: talent is not enough! You must have personal discipline, a great work ethic and a vision to become great at anything. The great Louis Pasteur once said,” let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.” I know you can do it.

Thank you for reading. Now get off the internet and start practicing knuckleheads… and I mean it!

Richard Rossicone

About Richard Rossicone

Richard W. Rossicone is a veteran of the New York City and Long Island original and cover band scene. He has been playing guitar since the tender age of 8 years old when he attended his first concert, KISS and saw Pete Townshend smash a guitar. He has studied with various instructors over the years which led him to a career in Music Therapy. He began his educational journey at Queensboro Community College where the faculty there opened up a new world to him by introducing him to classical music. He received his A.A. in Fine Arts in 1997 and from there went on to receive his B.A. in Music Therapy in 2001 and his M.A. in Music Therapy from New York University in 2004. He has been Board Certified as a Music Therapist since 2002. Hungry to learn more about different styles on the guitar, Richard decided to continue his studies at C.W. Post University pursuing a second Masters Degree in Classical Guitar Performance and Music History in early 2006, studying under Harris Becker. In addition to his “day job” as a music therapist, he has been teaching guitar, piano and theory part time since 2002 and in 2006 started his own company called Rossicone Music Studios. Richard has grown his business from 15 students a week to over 50 a week at this present time. Richard is also a contributing blogger to GuitarWorld.com and GuitarAficionado.com Check out his blog page entitled The Complete Guitarist and visit him on Facebook at Richy Rossicone’s Complete Guitarist Page.
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13 Responses to The Art of Practicing

  1. Eddie DeNicola says:

    I practice every day richy! KISS, and Gun’s ‘n’ Roses every day! Distortion up and ready to go!

  2. Jeremy Rozario says:

    I know from personal experience that everything Rich says is 100% true. He is an incredible teacher, and your musical endeavors will benefit by following his tips.

    • Thanks Jeremy! You are also living proof that if you work hard at anything you can become great and you are becoming a great musician and a great guitar player. Keep up the fantastic work and I thank you again.

  3. Oliver Rozario says:

    I can honestly say that I didn’t like to practice the ‘beginner’ lessons; I wanted to jump to the hardcore rock-and-roll stuff. But Rich has made it clear that with hard work and determination, you can achieve anything. After all the hard work, I’m learning one of the toughest Thin Lizzy songs: “Black Rose”(Roisin Dubh). All my musical aspirations are becoming a reality because of my amazing guitar teacher’s support. If I have learned anything over my years of practice, it’s that you should never give up and always try your best. Thanks Rich!

    • Hey thank you so much Oliver. I always tell my students to just fight through the boring stuff. I have been there and it will be worth it. I am glad you trusted me a busted your butt with hard work because it has showed in your playing. You are another one of my prime examples of what hard work and persistence will get you in this world. You are well on your way to becoming a great musician and guitar player. My only question is this: between you and Jeremy, who will be Scott Gorham and who will be Brian Robertson? That’s how good you are getting! Keep it up and thank you again.

  4. Frank F. says:

    Wow! rich, I’ve performed a lot when I was younger- and reading your tips on practice inspired me a lot!!!!
    I think I’m going to pick up the guitar again-

    F.F.

  5. Thanks Frank…good for you and glad you enjoyed the blog…let’s get to it and thanks for checking out the site…
    RR

  6. Deb Pouch says:

    Great suggestions! I’ll try these tricks, especially setting small goals, with the parts with which I have so much trouble. Thanks for your patience!

  7. Deb Pouch says:

    Great suggestions! I’ll try these, especially setting small goals, with the parts with which I have trouble. Thanks for being so patient!

  8. Hey Deb…welcome to the Axgrinder family and you are welcome…any other questions or requests you have, feel free to post…thanks again and remember…you can play anything!!!

  9. Hey Tom,
    Thanks for posting the excellent tips. Thanks again for checking out my site. It is much appreciated. Keep the feedback coming!!!
    RR

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