Learning how to learn is an art you seldom think about, but neglect it and you will struggle getting where you want to go. What follow are some tips regarding practicing that I’ve collected over my years in the woodshed.
Practice as consistently as you can. 15 minutes a day is better than 4 hours on Saturday. That way you can build upon the info you learned the previous session instead of relearning everything that you have forgotten since last weekend.
Learn when you are fresh. Your brain retains things better if you are not tired. Of course, I find that sometimes I enjoy practicing most when everyone else is trying to get some sleep.
Don’t Practice Mistakes:
Play it right the first time. If you get sloppy you will be building bad habits. The key to never making a mistake is going slowly. Slowly. Get out your metronome and set it very slow. Then play the piece to the click. Hopefully it’s slow enough that you feel stifled. Good! Focus on playing everything perfectly while you have the chance to look ahead and take your time getting to notes. If you can’t play it like this then you might as well not play the song because going slowly should be easier than the normal tempo. Once you’ve played it perfectly slow, you can speed up by a few BPM each time around until you are back at the performance tempo.
Repeat yourself and play whatever you are working on over and over. The best way you can get something in your head is to play it again and again. Go slowly so as not to make any mistakes. You should get to the point that you don’t have to think about what you are doing. It should just happen.
Don’t Watch Your Fingers:
Practice in the dark (or without watching your fingers). Many people have to look at their fingers to play well. This is a severe limitation and should be avoided by practicing without visual input. One way would be to play in the dark (really dark) – it forces you to feel and hear the notes and not see them.
Warm up before practicing. That way you will already be on the top of your game when you begin you practice session. Stretching your fingers is a good place to start. After that, maybe run some scales or chord changes to get your fingers going.
Use Your Ears:
Transcribe songs to train your ears. Being able to know what’s going on without having a sheet in front of you is a powerful tool. By practicing along with the radio of iTunes you can work on hearing chord changes, keys, and melody. Start easy and if you want, write out the song as you go. The more you do this, the better you will get. If you need some ideas on how to start, look at: How to Figure Out Songs.
If you ever run out of ideas for what to practice, here is a big list that should keep you busy: Things to Practice.
Squeezing More Practice Time Into Your Day
There are never enough hours. Especially when you add another pursuit like the ‘ukulele to your life list of things to do. The good news is that few modern lives are fully optimized for ‘ukulele playing and there is room for improvement.
- One of the best things you can do for quick practice moments is have your ‘ukulele on a stand or in a case nearby. If you have to dig it out of the closet you are much less likely to pick it up. Make it obvious.
- Put the TV volume on “mute” during commercials and run through a scale or song before your show comes back on. That’s a good 15 minutes of wasted time each hour if you are just watching the talking heads and “possible side effects.”
- Use driving time to work on anything you don’t need an ‘ukulele to practice – singing, rhythm, thinking through songs, etc… Just because you can’t play ‘ukulele doesn’t mean you can’t practice music. Best yet, get someone else to drive when possible and jam in the passenger seat.
- Replace Popular Mechanics with an ‘ukulele in your “library.” Any musician worth his salt knows that the bathroom is usually the best sounding room in the house.
- You can practice strumming anywhere by using your leg as an instrument of sorts. A pair of pants actually seems to have resistance similar to ‘ukulele strings. Just strum against your thigh and watch the progress flow. Everyone else in the doctors office will think you have a bad case of ADD, but you’ll know better.
- Make choices on how you want to spend your time. Less Facebook = more ‘ukulele. It’s as simple as that.