Efficient Practicing: When you wish you had all day...

4 hours a day, 6 days a week 

Reason: You are at a formative point in your career. Now is the time for you to solidify your technique, develop as a musician and learn to play in a healthy and efficient way. Yes, you’ll improve even into your (gasp!) 40s and 50s but your high school and college years do not come back. You need a good foundation. Now is the time. Carpe Diem!

1 day off per week (This means not even looking at a cello.) 

Reason: You want to remain fresh and enthusiastic. A lot of learning an instrument is repetition. It’s easy to burn out both physically and mentally. Perhaps more importantly, life and becoming a great recreative artist is not just about the practice room. Get out and do something new.

The 4 Hours:

  •                        15 minutes - warm up 
  •                        45 minutes - an étude 
  •                         1 hour - a concerto 
  •                         1 hour - a sonata 
  •                         1 hour - chamber music, orchestra assignments, etc

Time your practicing. If you’ve planned to spend 30 minutes on a Popper etude after 30 minutes, STOP! You may feel like you want to go on for another hour. DON’T! Save it for tomorrow. You may want to quit after 10 minutes. DON’T! Stay with it. 

Mix it up. Use one practice routine for three days then change the recipe. For example, spend less time on the concerto and more time on the sonata.

Tired, restless or bored? Try these ideas.

  • Practice from the end of the piece instead of the beginning. For example, start with the recap.
  • Practice all the like passages (exposition 1st theme, recap 1st theme, etc). How are they different?
  • Work on intonation in all the slower parts. Use a drone. Check intonation with open strings. Is your instrument vibrating freely? It will if you are playing in tune. Notice how the instrument feels when notes are in tune and when they are not. Feel the vibrations through the bow and left hand. 
  • Woodshed only the fast passages. Read them through twice at the fastest tempo you can. What sections didn’t go so well? Why? Was it the bow? Shifts? Coordination? Work on only those parts that are problematic. Be specific in pinpointing the problem. Transition into and out of those passages. Finish playing the entire passage slowly. Be sure to use the bowings and fingerings you will use when it’s fast. Use minimal motion. Be efficient.

When to practice. Unpopular as this might be, I recommend you put in an hour or two first thing in the morning. In these early hours your ears are not filled with the sounds of the day and your mind is not running down a laundry list of things you have to do.  

After you finish practicing for the day. Listen to 10 minutes of a really beautiful cello sound. That is the sound you should expect to hear the next day in the practice room.

The most difficult task in learning and living with an instrument is discovering out how to teach yourself. Teachers can only point you in the right direction. In the end, it’s up to you.