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As a musician, you cannot reach your full potential on talent alone. Rather, you must set goals and practice regularly to achieve your personal best. We are all bombarded with many responsibilities such as family obligations, work, and school, just to name a few. These commitments can be time consuming and often conflict with our hobbies and interests. However, no matter how busy you are, prioritizing your time and setting goals will help to develop consistent habits of practicing. The following are a list of key characteristics to help you develop good practice habits with your instrument, and help you become a working musician:

  • Discipline yourself to find a steady time during the day to practice at your instrument. This can be in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Find out when your energy level and creativity are at its best, and make it a habit to practice regularly at that time.

  • Quality must exceed quantity. It is not about how long you practice your instrument, but rather, about what you do with the practice time you have. Practicing twenty – thirty minutes for six days a week is far more effective than practicing for two hours one day and nothing the next three days. While it is good to practice daily, it is also good to occasionally take a day off. This will help you become more creative and give you a fresh perspective, because you are not always in the routine practicing every single day. Conversely, do not take too much time off, because you will lost motivation and momentum.

  • Do not be afraid to try new techniques on your instrument. Musicians often fall into a rut, following the same routine and playing the same music. Think outside of the box. Maximize your effectiveness by creating music that has never been done before. You will be surprised at some of the amazing things you can come up with. As a drummer, I would always take time to work on creativity and originality while playing. This helped me develop some beats and solos in unique time signatures, and enabled me to play with four-way independence on the drums.

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify! Any time you are learning how to play a complex rhythm, there are three strategies you can do to fully understand it: 1. Break it down. 2. Slow it down. 3. Count it out.

  • Break it down – Breaking down a rhythm gives you the opportunity to focus on one limb at a time. For example, I play many beats on the drums that require a high degree of independence and coordination. It is almost impossible for me to initially learn a beat playing with all my limbs combined together. I have to break down the beat by fully learning how to play one rhythm at a time repeatedly. It may take me a while to play each limb repeatedly, but it is the only solution in understanding how to play complex beats.

  • Slow it down – When you first obtained your license, did you drive 80MPH on the expressway? I certainly hope not! You probably started off learning the fundamentals to driving and drove in quiet residential areas before getting on busier streets and expressways. This same example applies to slowing down a rhythm if it is too complicated. When you play a rhythm fast without fully understanding it, your mind is just focused on speed. However, when you slow down a beat, it will give you the chance to fully understand it as your mind is focused on playing the beat correctly, rather than how quickly you can play it.

  • Count it out – Imagine being in another state without a map, navigator, or any assistance. You would be completely lost, confused, and frustrated. This is exactly how it is when we do not count out loud rhythms we learn. We will often play a measure excessively, shorten it, or even play in another time signature! Counting out loud will always help you play in time, consistently, and continuously, because you will always know where the beat is. When you have come to the point in your playing where you have mastered certain beats, counting is not necessary. However, counting is very important when you first learn how to play different kinds of beats.

  • As referenced to above, it is always about what we do with the practice time we have – not about how long we practice for. Quality practicing also consists of repetition. One of the biggest mistakes I see with students is their lack of repetition in a beat. They may be able to play it, but struggle playing something the same way every time because they have not disciplined themselves to play with repetition. You must discipline yourself to play each rhythm you learn repeatedly until it becomes second nature to you. It may become tedious at times playing something over and over, but it will help you to play it naturally.

  • Record yourself frequently when you practice. If you are a visual learner, use an iPad or some other technological device. If you are an auditory learner, record yourself with a smart phone or CD. It is difficult to identify any flaws we make while playing a beat, because we are so focused on playing the beat correctly. For instance our timing might fluctuate, or there may be hesitation between measures. Recording will resolve this problem. You will be able to identify the flaws you make and go back to correct them. Recording is also good for progression. You will see where your playing skills were at three months ago, and where they are now. Was there progression? Are you more refined? Recording is one of the best evaluators to have besides having another person present.

  • If you are taking a long vacation, bring your instrument! While it may be difficult to maneuver a drum set or piano, a musician can always bring a drum pad, sticks, or a guitar. If your vacation exceeds ten days, I would recommend that you stay in touch with your instrument. Taking too much time off our instrument results in losing momentum and possibly even some interest. While it is good to take some time off, be cautious of not taking too much time off. You will never lose your God-given talent, but it may take a while to refine it.

  • Do not practice out of obligation, but practice out of joy and excitement for your instrument. A lot of what we do in life deals with our approach and attitude towards it. If a musician approaches their instrument with enthusiasm, this will directly result in endurance, creativity, and an open mind to learn new concepts on the instrument. On the contrary, when students approach their instrument because they have to, but do not want to, they will find themselves going through the motions and not making any progress. Thus, there will be no excitement and zeal. Remember that excitement and enthusiasm come as a result of practice and progression. When you are progressing and being challenged, you will become more enthusiastic about your instrument. Your will to learn is just as important as the skill you have.

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