PRACTICING IN TIMED INTERVALS
How long can we truly focus our full attention on something? How long can we practice our instrument before something distracts us, and knocks us out of focus? It can be difficult to focus deeply for more than a few minutes at a time (it’s okay, we’re all human!). However, like most things, with practice we can learn to deepen and increase our focus.
After studying other musicians’ practice routines, reading about meditation/focus methods, and staying up to date with neuroscience, I don’t encourage practicing for more than 15-30 minutes at a time. After this, usually our minds lose focus, our bodies get tired (poor posture is bad for technique), and we start practicing more sloppily. We begin crystallizing mistakes, or in a less poetic way, we cultivate bad habits.
If you step up to your instrument each time with a deep focus, utilize this focus during your session, and stop practicing when you begin to lose it, your practice efficiency at the instrument will grow.
Here’s a tip to help you gain focus for your practice session: stand near your instrument and fire up a tune on the stereo that you’re in the mood to hear. This sharpens your ears up a bit. As you’re listening, do a light 5 minute full-body stretch (like you’d do before a workout at the gym, or playing a sport). Most songs are around this length of time anyways. The music gets your ears and mind tuned up, the stretch gets your body warmed up. Also, the music can often inspire you for your session, and give you ideas to work with.
When the song and stretching are complete, you’ll feel much more focused and ready to practice than right before you did it. You then feel free to sit down at the instrument, and begin practicing on your goals for that session.
I usually start a 15 minute timer as soon I’m seated and ready to play, and only look down at it when I begin to lose focus or need a breather: At this point, there is little time on there anyways, so I just buckle down and finish up strong. Then break time.
Practice smart, not hard! I benefit much more from a great 15 minute practice session, where my goals are set before I begin, than a 2 hour session of floundering. For instance, if I know I’m gonna practice four hours one day, then I will split my practice time into 16 separate fifteen-minute sessions, with breaks in between.
Training in intervals is beneficial for your body and your mind. Also, you’ll have extra time in the day to work on aural exercises, ear training, listening, or other daily activities that will benefit you as a musician. You can knock some of these things out during your practice breaks if you want. Also, your technique, posture, and mental dexterity will likely improve too.
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