Kim Lajoie's blog

How to practice effectively

by Kim Lajoie on October 25, 2010

Every skill requires practice. No matter what it is you do – composing, performing, producing, engineering… you need to practice in order to get better at it. Whether you’re learning how to play an instrument or learning how to use reverb, there are four things that you must do in order to practice effectively:

  • Practice regularly. It’s important to put in regular practice – not just ad-hoc. And it has to be frequent too. It might be ok to practice for half an hour once a week when you’re just starting, but if you want to take your craft seriously, you’ll have to quickly move to three times (and then five times) a week. Without setting aside regular time each week, you won’t be able to consistently put in the hours required to improve your skills and progress.
  • Progress slowly. In other words, don’t try to take on too much all at once. When learning to play a new song for the first time, practice playing it slowly so you can really feel your way around the notes before you play it at full speed. If you’re working with artists, try just one song at a time before attempting a whole album. If you’re engineering, learn how to get the best out of your basic compressor before starting to collect many different varieties.
  • Focus on trouble areas. Don’t just gloss over them. It can be fun to avoid the aspects of your craft that you find difficult, but this avoidance will let you down in the future. Many songs have a difficult section or two – focus on those difficult parts to really bring them up to standard. If your’re having creative differences with your artist or collaborator, don’t skirt around the issue – address it head on. If you don’t really understand the theory behind headroom and dynamic range, read up!
  • Build your capabilities. This means doing exercises that aren’t directly related to any projects or songs you have in progress. Instead of full-length songs or projects, exercises are short and intense and focussed. For musicians and composers, this means working on short pieces of music that are specifically designed to develop a certain area of your craft. For producers, this means taking on smaller side projects to explore certain aspects of music production. For engineers, this might mean mixing a particular song using only one kind of tool to really learn the ins and outs of it.

Whatever you do – don’t assume that talent will get you by, or that a lack of talent will hold you back. A natural aptitude or enjoyment will motivate you to work harder, but it’s the hard work that will really push you forward.

-Kim.

7 thoughts on “How to practice effectively

  1. puddy says:

    When you practice an instrument; , play your way through the flubs… it’s good not get in the habit of stopping every time you flub cause you’re training yourself to stop . Try to get so you can hear if you were sharp or flat so you can correct it whilst playing and keep going. Of course you should still isolate and work on the tough parts , but if you ever want to play out don’t train to just quit when you flub …. train to play your way through it .( And remember that the average persons not going to be quite as critical as you would be yourself …)

    Again for instruments ( and mixing !!) ; Close your eyes… It takes allot of you brains processing power to do the visual… you can focus and bring other parts of yourself to bear if you free up the mental resources the eyes use.

    Practice precise then play “loose” this kind of goes with playing through the flubs … sometimes just forget it all and play for the pure fun of it .. all the time focused on the precise should be balanced sometimes by not giving a rats posterior about precision!!

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    Good point. If you’re planning to play live, you must practice playing all the way through without stopping. Of course, you should have done enough preparation by this stage that any flubs are rare and quite minor.

    -Kim.

  3. Shelby says:

    Yes practice is really important.

    It’s what separates John Coltrane from Carlos Santana… Coltrane was always expanding he never thought “Well I’m pretty much the best sax player so I’m going to stop practicing” He practiced for hours and hours a day his whole life. Not only does it result in increased technique and understanding, but there is another even more important effect, it keeps you genuinely excited by new possibilities. And that’s the secret ingredient that makes music special.

    Perhaps this is why a lot of bands sound great when they are youngsters, but then when they’ve been doing the same thing for 15 years they just don’t have the fire anymore. I’ve heard a lot of people say that simply aging accounts for this, but it has more to the excitement of exploration. If you go back to the Coltrane example, his music got even more impassioned and exciting as he grew older. And look at Santana, he’s been playing THE SAME SHIT for 40 years or so, and it sounds dull and unenthusiastic and overly refined.

    So be like a kid, explore your music. There’s always something new to experience musically. And that’s exciting.

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    @Shelby
    I agree wholeheartedly. It’s so important to continue to grow and develop as an artist. If you don’t keep pushing yourself to go further and create amazing music, you’ll end up getting bored with your own music.

    -Kim.

  5. Soon, playing a real instrument will become obsolete because nobody is gonna have/put the time to practice. Maybe not tomorrow but in the future, it will happen. Just kidding.

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