Last week, we posted an article about what a music instructor’s ideal music lesson space might look like. This week, we thought we’d visit the student side of things: The practice space.
Getting around to engaging in the practice process can be quite the feat sometimes. Let’s face it, life provides us TONS of excellent excuses to NOT spend time on developing our skills as musicians! Most of us are stretched pretty thin as it is, and it can be hard to make sure that practice time gets in there. It is so easy to just chop it right out of our day in favor of something more conveniently placed, such as work, cleaning, or T.V. One thing that can help us get past that resistance is making sure we have a nice place to go and do our work. But, what makes a good practice space? Here are a few things you may want to consider when putting your space together:
1. Have a dedicated practice area!
Having a regular space that you have claimed as your own for practice time is extremely important. It can even be the corner of a room. It doesn’t have to be fancy! Whatever the space, it needs to be comfortable for you, populated with the things you need to get your work done and be free from distractions. We are, as you may have noticed, pretty easy to distract as a species. Our attention is lost easily, and our will to not procrastinate and get our daily work done can disappear quickly (this is what I call ‘The Give-a-Darn Meter’). It really can seem like an uphill battle getting to practice sometimes! That is why it is important for us to have somewhere consistent and reliable to go, even if it is just a corner of the bedroom or a walk in closet. If it’s always in the same spot, you don’t have to spend time looking for it, chasing anyone out of it, or clearing space somewhere every time you want to get to work. It is imperative that you keep it clean and free of clutter because visual clutter reduces your ability to focus.
2. Recording device, and access to technology.
Recording yourself is a good way to keep track of how far you’ve come! As we’ve mentioned a few times before, having an accurate documentation of how far you’ve come could make the difference between you staying on top of your practice routine- or not. Recording your practices will allow you to share your practice process with your instructor too, who can then help you refine your process to be its most efficient. Collabra recently spoke with Dr. Ron Shinn, an instructor on the platform who teaches piano and music theory at Samford University. He told us that having access to practice recordings his students made on Collabra allowed him to pick up on things his students were doing differently when they practiced at home than at his studio, such as using a really out of tune piano, seating issues with their home equipment, even problems with lighting. These are all things you may not notice are a problem as a student if you’re used to practicing this way at home.
It’s also handy to have a recorder nearby for days where you’re really on it, when something magical happens- everything feels great, you’ve never sounded this good, you’ve finally gotten that tricky passage down. It’s good to have a recording of that so you can listen to it on days where you’re feeling down on yourself about your progress. You can see that breakthroughs do indeed happen, and they are magnificent to behold when they do. We can seem to focus only on what could be better, but It’s a good motivator to have proof of your successes, too!
3. A timer
This might be one of those things that you’ll want to have two of, so that you can keep one in your space, and leave the other one in the kitchen (for the cookies!). When you’re in your practice space, it is important to make sure that the time you have carved out for practice is well spent. If you’ve never tried interleaved practicing before, where instead of practicing one big hunk of something over and over again, you mix it up between several different yet related skills, you may want to give it a serious try. If you take the time to write down a few specific goals for a set time during a practice session, then set your timer to beep (assuming you have a digital one, of course!) every few minutes to change your activity, you’ll more deeply cover a wider range of skills, training quick recall. Whatever your plans are for the timer, let it keep track of how long you’re doing an activity so you don’t slip into mindless repetitive movements- the timer is a tool to keep you focused and in the moment, making for deeper learning. Make the agreement with yourself that for the next however long is indicated on the timer, you will do your best to stay focused on the specific task at hand. Keep it somewhere you can see it to keep on top of how long you’re spending doing what, to make every minute count. I find it useful to give it a name. (No, I’m not telling you what my timer’s name is, it’s a secret. Well, ok, maybe if you ask nicely…)
Down in the spidery-est corner of my basement, where I practice my singing, I have a bunch of things taped to the walls. Most of them are prompts for vocal exercises, or different warm-ups. Among those things are little post-its with encouraging things written on them, or pictures of my favorite singers. If I’m ever being especially hard on myself, I can look at the wall and say: “These people had to start somewhere too. Do it again. Aaah! Spiders!”
Make sure you keep something meaningful nearby to remind yourself why, exactly, you are doing what you’re doing. This will help keep burnout at bay. What initially brought you to the discipline of music? Who do you admire? Is there a specific style you’re going for? Who or what represents that? Do you have somewhere specific that you’d like to perform someday? Get a picture, or words, or an object, and keep it in your practice space. Keep reminders of why you’re doing what you’re doing handy, so that when it gets tough, you’re less likely to lose steam for the next practice session.
What about you?
What kinds of things do you like to keep handy in your practice space? What is your go to piece of motivation to keep going? Do you have a picture of your practice space to share? Maybe you will feel inspired to go and re-imagine your space after reading this- we’d love to see your before and after pictures!