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How to practice and more.

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JJ Rocks Article # 11: How to Practice and more!

Many of my students seemed to be faced with the same problem when it comes to practicing. So often I hear that age old excuse. I didnt have time to practice this week. So, I was faced with only two choices. I could continue with the next lesson and hope that they would study that one along with the last one, or review the last lesson and feel guilty about taking their money because theyre not learning anything new. Obviously, there are no right choices with those options. At first, I was going to basically weed out the students that couldnt practice because theyre too busy. But after realizing that time wasnt the real issue, and how I really like my students, I had to come up with ways for them to get the most benefits from the least amount of time.

A student with little or no time wasnt the only problem I faced. I had (and still have) students who have time but are still not learning. I would ask how much did you practice this week. And they would say I practiced a lot. But I didnt see much improvement. So I decided to find the root that both problems grew from. You see, it turns out that most of the students that say they didnt have the time were thinking that they had to sit down for an hour or so to practice. The thought of a five minute session probably never crossed their minds. It just wouldnt make sense to someone who grew up going to school with long classes and set schedules. Studying anything usually takes time! But, like I said before, its how often you study and not how long you study that makes the difference.

Lets just look at learning in general. Its just accumulated files in your head that you can call on for information to get you through a selected task. The things that you remember the easiest are the things that you thought of the most, not the ones that you thought of for the longest time. You can spend an entire week doing the same thing and still forget about it later in your life. But if you think of something many different times, it seems to be easier to recall. So I guess the magic word is recall. Its like a muscle in your mind that gets more pumped up the more you use it.

Here are a few things to try if you have problems learning either from lack of time, or youre just having a hard time remembering your last lesson.

1. focused repetition: Some students have good focus when they are playing a particular music passage, but dont have the discipline to do something in a repetitive sequence. Theyll play something once or twice and go on to the next song or exercise. Others will practice something for an hour straight and on the very next day they cant remember how the piece went. Those students can play little pieces of a lot of songs. Thats because even though they are very dedicated to practicing, they lack focus and usually dont realize it.

So, to put it plainly, the more you pay attention to what youre doing, the easier it will be to remember. And the more times you do something also makes it easier to remember. Did I say anything about how long to practice? Thats because its how many times you practice, not how long. Along with paying close attention to what youre doing, practicing in repetitions pays off big time. I guess by now the people with no time are wondering how they can practice a lot of repetitions with no time to spare. Well, since almost everybody has a few little five minute segments of time through out the day, you can design very short drills to do on your instrument. Its obvious that most people cant take their axe (instrument) to school or work, but you can find time right before you get in your car to go to work, or before your school bus arrives. Remember, Im talking five minutes. Its better to practice for five minutes several times a day (as many as possible) than to put aside an hour every few days. I know a guy who is too tired after work to practice, so while hes relaxing and watching TV, he picks up his guitar and practices during the commercials. Thats three minutes at a time and a lot of commercials. But dont forget, without paying very close attention to what youre doing, its all a waste of time.

2. Strengthening your recall: A strong recall (memory) doesnt just come from the amount of repetitions that you do in one sitting, but more from how many different times you pick up your instrument each day. I suggest to all of my students to try to leave their instrument out somewhere that they pass by a lot. For instance, they could leave it in a place thats on the way to the bathroom so they have to pass it on the way. Every time they go by it they can pick it up and play one new chord, one new scale or a melody. Just for one minute. Now if you have an expensive instrument I suggest getting a cheaper one just so you can put it out to play and leave your good one in the case.

Another way is to draw out chords or phases on scrap paper or on the side of a lunch bag. Even a stick in the dirt while you are sitting in a park will help. This also helps while you are learning chord construction. Just write down the scale steps contained in the chords that you know. (Example 1, b3, b5, b7 = a minor seventh, flat five chord). The main thing is to incorporate your practice into the things you do each day. Also its very important to say what youre practicing out loud. You can even whisper so no one can hear you. By saying it you retain it better. One of the best ways to say it out loud is to teach it. Find someone who knows less that you and teach them something that you just learned. Thats an excellent way to remember something and gain someones respect at the same time.

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