8 practice tips to stay motivated during lockdown!
If you play a percussion instrument and it’s difficult for you to study efficiently and stay focused during this lockdown, then you should definitely read this blog. And if you do not know what to practice and you don’t have sticks, mallets or exercise instruments at your fingertips, then I would definitely keep reading, because along with the help of some super cool colleagues I was able to put together a couple of interesting COVID-19 SURVIVAL KITS for rhythmic and melodic percussionists with everything you need to continue practicing during this lockdown, so your development as a percussionist does not stop. It only takes a few minutes, but you can learn a lot from it and it can help you get motivated and stay focused on your goal of being a better percussionist. I’m going to tell you everything about the 8 biggest pitfalls, which I walked right into myself when I was studying percussion. Read it, learn from my mistakes and make sure you don’t walk into these pitfalls yourself.
1. Don’t start practicing too fast
Trying to play a piece at the original tempo immediately is one of the biggest pitfalls there is. Making mistakes is inevitable. Strangely enough you keep on trying to play it in the same tempo a couple of times hoping you make less mistakes. If you are lucky you get through the piece well one out of four times, but this doesn’t mean that you know the piece. Three out of four times you made mistakes, so it hasn't been memorized well and you have not given your brain the opportunity to process the information in the right way. Remember that it is always better to start studying slowly, so that your brain is given the opportunity to process all information at a slow tempo and pre-program your limbs. In this way there will be less mistakes sneaking into the end result then when you study too fast.
2. Don’t start at the beginning over and over
A bad habit many of my students have when starting out is practicing from the top every time. I know you understand what I’m talking about ;-) You start from the top until you make a little mistake and start all over again. Just like in a video game where you need to start from the beginning when you die. This means that you are playing the beginning more than 20 times while you play the tricky parts only a few times. Unfortunately this means that the closer you get to the end of the piece, the more parts there are that you have studied very little. The annoying thing is that the last parts are best kept in the memory of the audience. Make sure that this is going to be a good memory! Grab your pencil and indicate the tricky parts in the piece. Practice the tricky parts separately and then go through larger sections of the piece again. If this won’t work, practice the tricky parts again. Don’t stop breaking things down until you can play the larger sections completely.
3. Use a steady rhythm
Another common mistake is playing through a piece without a steady groove or rhythm. You play the easy sections too fast and slow down at tougher parts. You may not see what you are doing wrong because you are playing all the notes. You often do not even realize that you are studying this way and that you can’t play the different sections correctly. It is better to be able to play the entire piece slowly (yes again) first, so that you can complete it at one tempo. Then you study all the difficult parts separately again, as explained at the previous point. One of the best ways to practice this is by using groove tracks or a metronome. I included a couple of the groove tracks I produced for my students in the practice packages I’m offering below. It is great to use them and if you use them you will immediately hear whether you are on or off beat.
4. Don’t merge the studied material too quickly
To merge everything together all at once before you’re actually ready is another big pitfall. The piece that you are practicing now is probably more difficult than the previous one, so you’re probably not going to be able to sight read your way through it easily. Make sure you can play all rhythms well without dividing them over your instrument. Make sure you know in which order you should play the different parts of your instrument ignoring the rhythm. If you’re not able to play things separately, you’re not ready to put things together. For example: if you try to play a marimba piece with two hands where you could actually only play the left hand, it often goes wrong. This step is simply too big. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to study each hand separately and practice difficult passages separately before joining both hands together.
5. Record yourself
Nowadays, every telephone, tablet or computer has a record function, why should you not use it? You will probably have one of the devices listed otherwise you would not read this blog. Most people are pretty critical of themselves and many mistakes only become clear when you can replay them. Audio and video recordings are both useful while studying. Video works well to see if you are consistently applying the right technique or to check your posture and presentation. Always use all tools you have at your disposal!
6. Always play relaxedly
A big pitfall for many musicians is to start playing immediately without proper preparation or warm up. That’s the recipe for cramps in your hands and shoulders. Because you don’t think about starting slowly or are a little impatient and want immediate results, it can go wrong and result in annoying and long lasting injuries. Unfortunately I’ve been in this position. Be very careful with this and make sure this doesn’t happen to you. Always try to start as relaxed as possible while practicing, rehearsing or performing, and also relax regularly in between practice sessions. Let your instrument and tools work for you. That will be difficult at first, because you have to get used to the way of playing. If you understand how you can let things happen, in the long run playing will cost you less effort and it will be a lot easier to last long during performances, and the best part is that the chance of injuries is considerably smaller.
7. Make sure you have a plan
Practicing without a plan is when you’re "studying" because you have to practice, but actually everything you’re doing is just playing the pieces without a clear goal. That is why it is always important to take notes so that you know which passages require extra attention. Always try to have at least one goal when you’re practicing and try to reach it during your study session. It can be a very small thing if you do not have that much time or energy. An example:
- Goal: I’m going to try to play yesterday’s single stroke exercise 2 beats per minute (BPM) faster.
- Plan: I’m going to play it at the tempo where I stopped yesterday and try to speed up the metronome a bit every time I play the exercise.
If you accomplished that, it is a small improvement, but do realize that it’s more motivating to "celebrate" a small improvement every day than not being able to improve yourself at all.
8. Reflect yourself
Students often think that working through their homework is enough. They have played all the songs and technique exercises. What else is there to do……? One of the most important things if you want to move forward with your instrument is self-reflection. Many students forget to ask themselves the question: "Was this a good practice session? Why? Why not? "Did you reach the practice goals you set for the day? Did you improve anything? Make sure you know the difference between practicing and playing. During practice you work on improvement, therefore self-reflection is important to find out how efficiently you were working and what you achieved. Every small step is progress and may be "celebrated"!
I hope this blog helped you a bit to stay motivated during this crazy lockdown period and helped you with some tips you need to keep on practicing and become a better percussionist every day.
If you are running out of exercise material or if (for whatever circumstances) you do not have any sticks, mallets or practice instruments at your fingertips, I can help you (in corporation with Bruce Salyers and Stephen L. Hughes) with the following practice kits at a very reasonable price.