The 3 Laws of Practicing

Developing a solid and productive way of practicing is a real source of anxiety, frustration, and confusion for many musicians. There seem to be so many competing factors pulling at each of us – the expectations of teachers, market expectations, and the perceived difference between where you are and where you want to be in your playing, to name a few. When we strip away all of these factors and influences, we are left with 3 concepts that together form a prerequisite for successful practice.

The 3 Laws of Practicing

1. Have A Plan.
2. Correct Mistakes.
3. Be Consistent.

1. Have A Plan – This is the most fundamental element of practicing. To me, a plan is a set of instructions that you can act upon to reach specific goals. Having a plan is important for a couple of reasons. First, it requires you to think about what you’re doing, especially when it comes to large long-term goals. The ability to break down large goals into small manageable tasks is invaluable. Also, it creates an opportunity to track progress over time. You can see what’s working (or not working) for you. You can also work out how realistic your timeline is for reaching your goals.

Having a plan is essential. In my opinion, if you’re playing without a plan, you’re not really practicing. With that said, playing music is a creative endeavor and there must be room for spontaneity and creativity. Sometimes you’ve just gotta play for the sake of playing.

2. Correct Mistakes – This sounds simple, but is often overlooked. These rules are short and simple. If I were to elaborate and give this rule a longer name, it would be “Correct mistakes mercilessly and fully.” This means that you must first remove any personal judgements about making mistakes (i.e. I made a mistake. I’m a terrible musician and a horrible human being.). No one is perfect. Top performers in any field make mistakes. The difference is that they accept that they will mistakes and then approach those mistakes with a laser-like focus and correct them.

This is a multi-step process.
1. Identify a mistake and its exact location.
2. Identify the nature of the mistake – mechanical (fingers/tongue), mental (counting errors), etc.
3. Find a solution to the mistake.
4. Practice the correction at the point of the mistake (just a few notes before and after the mistake)
5. Play it slowly until it feels comfortable and easy then increase speed as needed.
6. Play the section in context.

The process of correcting mistakes is where skill is developed. Music is built on a lot of patterns and repetition. If you encounter a particular problem in a piece or a tune, you can expect to see it pop up again somewhere down the line. Addressing mistakes fully the first time around will increase your chances of success in the future.

3. Be Consistent – The key to developing a skill over time is consistency. You have to show up and do the work on a regular basis.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts about practicing in the comments below.