How to Set Practice Goals

One very important concept I try to communicate with my students is knowing how to practice.  Out of a 5-week series on my studio website, I’ve compiled several weeks of posts on “How to Set Practice Goals”

Week 1- Practicing is just as much of an art as performing music.  I once heard that the great bassist, Francois Rabbath, practices no more than about 2 hours a day.  Since concerts don’t usually last longer than 2 hours, why would you practice more than 2 hours.  That’s his philosophy, but he makes a good point.  What can you get done in a short amount of time?  If you set small individual daily goals for yourself, you can eventually train yourself to play through an entire piece without much trouble.  Think of the old story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  So, set a few reachable goals each day and make sure you can actually attain them.

Week 2- Last time I mentioned setting small daily practice goals.  The key to success is always practicing in a way that you accomplish something, even if it’s really small.  Some pieces of music are packed with technical challenges that must be worked out.  Take the time to examine all the elements related to a passage.  You might even want to write out a flow-chart so you have a representation of what needs to be done.  The more specific you can get with the goals, the better.

Week 3- When I think of a ‘goal’, I think of a target, or something I’m aiming to master or complete.  One dictionary definition defines the word ‘goal’ as, “The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.”   I like the words ‘ambition’ and ‘effort’ in that definition because it gives the sense of desire or longing for the end result.  Practicing for  perfection often does not come easy, but it many times does require a lot of effort.  I think that many students don’t realize that practice should be difficult- it’s where all the work gets done.  Think about the word ‘training’ in the context of the Olympic athletes we are watching right now from Vancouver.  Don’t be afraid to extend yourself and test your limits.  You just might be surprised a what you can do!

Week 4- Practice, as I’ve talked about before, is breaking down technical challenges in music and ordering them in a way that makes it possible to play each note perfectly.  When we get very specific about what’s happening in the music, it is important not to get lost in the details of practice.  Like stringing together a pearl necklace, you need to be able to put together all of those practice spots or passages in such a way that you begin to hear the music come alive.

Week 5- The aim of practice should first and foremost be to better yourself on your instrument.  It’s easy to wrap yourself up in practice each day and forget that the final goal of practice is to perform for an audience.  As you practice, always keep that in mind.  Set high goals and think of ways you can eliminate the things you can’t do so you can increase what you’re able to do.


About tunedin4ths

David Ballam Doctoral Student at the University of Texas at Austin Doublebass Instructor: UT String Project & Round Rock School District BLOG: WEB:
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