Monday, June 13, 2011

Practice Like You Cook

So you signed up for music lessons and now you're trying to fit that mystical 1/2 hour a day of practice into your busy schedule. But eek! You haven't touched the instrument since last week. So I guess you'll call to cancel your lesson, right? No way!  

First of all,  where did the mystical '30 minutes a day' number come from?  Is it kind of like the old adage 'wait 30 minutes after you eat before going swimming'? Speaking of eating...

The Food Network has done a brilliant job of presenting and even romanticizing the process of cooking. Far too often in music, we (both students and teachers) focus on the results and fail to embrace the process of learning which includes of course - practicing.

Here's a fresh approach to practice by the musical sous-chefs of The Dallas School of Music and Discover, Learn, and Play.


Let's face it, there are no magic bullets - you will at some point need to put time in on your instrument if you want to have any measure of success. However, we've found that most people spend what little time they do have unproductively and without a plan of attack.  This usually means simply 'playing' songs or exercises from beginning to end or 'noodling' without consciously applying any musical ideas.  

Don't get us wrong, we're all for noodling! But if you're stretched for time, you'll benefit from a little planning when you do have the time to practice.


If the fridge and pantry are bare, there's a good chance you'll go hungry. You've got to acquire ingredients before you can eat. We sometimes call this 'paper-practice' and encourage busy students (especially adults) to read lesson material and/or take quizzes before they actually 'practice'. 

As time allows, practice like you might make a nice dinner. Assemble the ingredients, prepare the spices, then follow the recipe until you have a completed dish.  Repeat that process and eventually you'll have a full course meal. Repeat it often enough and you can begin to get creative and add your own touches!

These same ideas can apply to your music learning process. A good teacher or method will present musical concepts (ingredients) in the proper sequence, and communicate specific ways to apply them to your instrument  - that's your musical recipe. If need be, spend some lesson time reviewing your ingredients and preparing your recipes. It's time well spent that will pay off down the road. 

Slow-Roasted versus Stir-Frying

Think of practice as being more like making a turkey rather than a quick wok dish.  There are many steps of preparation that must be completed before the oven is even turned on.  And this line of thinking is valid at every musical level; from beginners naming notes and clapping rhythms, to more advanced learners practicing tempo or meter changes. 

Knowledge precedes results in almost every endeavor and any 'practice' time spent with your instrument should be time spent applying the knowledge that you've gained. If you don't have it upstairs (in your head), it won't come out downstairs (on your instrument).

We know you're busy, so a little planning can really go a  long way toward helping you get the most out of your musical journey. And now it's time for dessert - bon appetit!