Practicing is undoubtedly the most important part of advancing as a musician. However, many of us aren’t living up to our full practice potential. (I mentioned this in my article 4 Reasons Why You Should Be Practicing Backwards; check it out for some other tips on practice!). Practicing can be daunting and boring, especially for young students, but it doesn’t have to be! Instead of mindlessly playing through pieces with the metronome ticking away like a clock, try regularly incorporating musicality into your practice! Not only is it important for musicianship, helps solidify memorization, and makes practice more fun.
Musicianship is the Most Often Ignored Part of Practicing
Put the ‘music’ in musician! As a musician, even if you’re just starting out, it is your job to create music. You are not a machine, so don’t practice like one! Learning the notes and rhythms of a piece is only the beginning of practicing. If you don’t practice musicality and creativity, you won’t perform it that way. Musicians are artists--they create--and the best musicians create music that set them apart. I had a teacher once say that it’s a musician’s job to beat the audience’s expectations. Listeners want to be surprised. If you can succeed in being musical, creative, and surprising (in a good way!), then you will be remembered and set apart as a great musician. So practice musicality in all of your pieces and songs. This means that you need to play everything with purpose and feeling. Don’t mindlessly go through the motions, but be intentional about what you’re doing.
Memorization can be extremely difficult if you aren’t playing with musicality. The brain is wired to remember better with multiple sense activated. If you practice with musicality, you are adding another element that will solidify memorization. Not only will your memory solidify, but you will learn music faster and more efficiently.
Psychologist and musician, Dr. Noa Kageyama, notes in an article titled “8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently,” that top practicers practice musicality, or phrase inflection, from the beginning of learning a piece. Check out the full article and read about the study here.
Make Practice Interesting
Repetition can be dull, and dangerously mindless. You should want to practice. I promise you that if you dread practice or find it boring, you aren’t practicing musically. Really feel what you are playing and it will be so much more enjoyable! Questioning the piece’s character, point, feeling, phrasing, etc. will make practice more interesting. You will enjoy working on your music, not dreading it.
How To Practice Musically
Now that you know the importance and benefits of practicing musicality, it’s time to learn how to incorporate it into your practice. (Hint, it’s not as hard as you think!)
In everything you play, (yes, even scales!), be thoughtful about what you’re doing. The first step is knowing what you want. If you don’t know what you want the music to sound like, or you don’t have a vision, just sing it to yourself. Singing your pieces helps you figure out how to phrase. My teacher used to say what you play should be a “soundtrack of the mind.” You MUST know what you want it to sound like.
In addition to singing, it’s important to ask yourself questions like this:
What are the major climaxes of the music? What part do I think it most important?
What dynamics should I use in this part?
Are there any other symbols I should be aware of?
How long is this phrase? Where does it begin and end?
What is my favorite part about this music?
What is the mood of this music? Sad? Happy? Angry?
What do I feel when I hear and play this?
There are so many questions like this that you should think about. Really get to know your music and yourself.
Once you know what you want in your music, practice it that way. From the very beginning of learning a piece of music, even if you’re playing it super slow, try to play it how you would want it to sound once it’s perfect. Speed doesn’t affect musicality. Play everything with purpose and feeling.
Now get to practicing! Feel the music--get back to why you became a musician!