Updated: Jun 29, 2019
It’s no myth that consistency and success go hand in hand, it is the one thing that unites all high-level musicians, athletes, business people and high achievers. If you speak to any professional player or high-level musician, they will tell you that the ‘fixed mindset’ idea of ‘natural talent’ is somewhat of a fallacy and that the only path to success is hard work, repetition and practice!
Creating a strict routine for your practice will enable you to see your improvements, manage your knowledge gaps, develop technical strength and give you the ability to reach your goals in a fast and effective way. Getting into a good routine with your instrument practice will make your practice sessions feel effortless, just as you wake up every morning and brush your teeth and shower without having to put thought into it or make time for it, you will practice your instrument. Making this a part of your daily routine will raise your endurance levels, create a good mental work ethic for learning music, improve your maximum numbers and make your playing faster, more fluent and with a better understanding of feel.
How should you structure your practice routine?
The most effective way to structure your practice is to think of each practice session like a workout. There should be a warmup, some skill work, a main focus and some kind of ‘fun’ section at the end. So, lets break that down further...
Warm up: This should be something you have played many times before just to blow out the cobwebs and get your fingers/hands/feet warmed up. We suggest scales, arpeggios, rudiments (for drums) or any repetitive piece of music. Set your metronome to a comfortable tempo (around 75% of your maximum speed) and work up slowly. For my guitar practice I start by doing some basic fingering exercises, then I go through the first 5 positions of the minor pentatonic scale for each note starting from F and cycling through along with my metronome and repeat this with the major scale and then natural minor scale.
Skill Work: This will change largely depending on your instrument but, this mainly refers to a singular technique or set of techniques. If you play a melodic instrument such as piano, guitar or violin this can consist of techniques such as trills, finger picking (for guitar) or dynamics. For percussion or drums it could be double kick pedal, poly rhythms or a specific hand technique. For my guitar practice I use this time to work on a specific technique I need to improve usually either fingerpicking or chord extensions. For the former I use a set of exercises (you can find these in my KungFu Guitar book) and for the latter I set myself tasks using jazz standards and see how I can manipulate the chord structures to change the chord extensions to fit the melody.
Main Focus: This will depend on your skill level, for professional musicians this will largely be when you run through set lists, songs for sessions or work on compositions. For students this can be a specific song you are working on, style of music you are studying, chord or chord sequence you are perfecting or exam piece you are learning. This will typically be the longest section of your practice routine. For my practice at this point I will usually be working through a set list of songs for upcoming performances or working through songs my students are working on.
Fun Section: This is time to reward yourself for all your hard work, you can choose to play through some songs you love, work on improvisations (as I do), go through solos you want to play, jam along with backing tracks or work on pieces outside of your typical genre of focus. Basically, this is time to play your instrument. For me improvising is the most fun part of playing an instrument so I use this time to pick a key and a genre e.g Blues in E or Funk Rock in F and I jam along with a backing track usually I can find some great ones for free on YouTube.