Finding the Time and Space That Works for You
by Lara Levitan
Whether you’re new to lessons or a veteran, the quality and condition of your practice space and time matters. Even if your options are limited— the piano is in the cold, dark basement and that’s that— these suggestions will help you nurture a productive environment.
1. Quiet Isn’t Just Obvious, it’s Essential
Unless you thrive under noisy conditions, audio distractions are the music student’s worst enemy. Make sure your co-habitators knows you’re practicing so they can keep it down, or choose a space removed from the hustle and bustle of family and the ringle-dingle of electronics.
2. Out of Sight, out of Mind
The ideal space shouldn’t be so secluded that it feels irrelevant to your day-to-day life. A piano concealed in a cryptic part of the house can be easily forgotten, perpetuating a practice drought.
“For students with a lot of different things vying for their time, they need to actually see the instrument as they go throughout their day to be reminded to practice it,” said music teacher Lucas Gillan.
You can try keeping mobile instruments in an opened case in a well-tread room, allowing the instrument to whisper to you. I’m so lonely, come play me, it will say.
3. Keep it Private…
You know how it is when you feel like someone’s listening to you practice—you become stiff and self-conscious, worried about what they’re thinking. When music teacher Dan Huber was in college, he would practice in the music building late at night when it was mostly empty to avoid being listened to.
“For me, practicing is more embarrassing than performing,” Dan said. “One needs to repeat possibly bad or incorrect sounding music over and over and over and over. I tend to practice once everyone in my house is asleep.”
If you’re a piano player who lives with other people or in a shared building, a digital piano with headphones could be a solution for when you just can’t be alone.
4. …Or Not Private at All
A student’s age may be a factor when it comes to privacy levels. Young students may need an attentive, encouraging parent nearby to keep them on track with assignments and goals, while older students may prefer more independence during practice.
Personality comes into play here, too.
“I’m an extrovert, so to be relegated to the basement is not pleasant,” said music teacher Sandra G. Connoly. “I feel isolated and disconnected. Just around the corner of some activity is perfect. My son, who is an introvert, enjoys being in his room.”
5. Consider Acoustics
High ceilings or an echoey room will drown out the finer details of your playing and possibly disrupt your focus. Conversely, a room that is all hard surfaces or soundproof will make you sound great, but may be glossing over your deficiencies and creating a ‘singing in the shower’ effect.
Music teacher Roger Stimson notes that acoustically-excellent practice can disappoint when you play in a performance hall with lesser conditions.
“I always practice in a well-furnished room and then, when I am performing, what a boost I get from the resonance of the acoustic!” Roger said.
6. Keep Tools Handy
Gather all the necessary tools (pencils with erasers, metronomes, sheet music, stands, tuners, etc.) before practice time so that you don’t have excuses to keep getting up and interrupting your flow.
7. Make it a Pet-Free Zone, at Least Temporarily
Fido makes a lovely companion but a terrible practice partner.
“If pets disturb practice sessions half as much as they disturb lessons, it would be impossible to focus for very long,” Lucas said. “It might not be a terrible idea to put attention-seeking dogs behind a closed door during practice sessions.”
8. Feed Your Inspiration
If your practice room depresses you or evokes powerful feelings of indifference, you’re going to feel unmotivated to practice. Decorate it with pictures of inspiring musicians, artwork that evokes feelings of joy or creativity, or plants and flowers that brighten the room. Make it your favorite place to be.
9. Practice Time is Key
Work with attention to your body rhythms, avoiding scheduling practice during times when you’re usually hungry or overly tired. If you’re a morning person whose mind shines with the sun, try to fit in lessons before work or school if you can make the time.
“Practice is like exercising,” says piano and voice teacher Dominic German. “We’re much less likely to do it after a long day.”
On the contrary, night owls should squeeze their creative juices when the moon is ripe.
For voice students, leave time between rehearsal singing and practice singing to give the vocal chords a break. Same goes for instrument students who’ve worn out hands, arms, backs, or shoulders while doing another activity. Rest your body when needed or it will find some clever way to rebel.
10. Consistent Practice Time Trains the Mind
For many of us, routines alleviate angst. Like habits, we live life in routines because we’ve trained ourselves. Making practice time a routine carried out at the same time every day takes the question “but when will I have time to practice?” out of the equation.
11. Evaluate Your Goals
Teacher Sarah Diller swears by setting goal limits for practice rather than time limits.
“Instead of saying ‘I’m going to sit at the piano for 30 minutes’, say ‘I’m going to practice until I’m comfortable with the first page,'” Sarah said. “Doing this emphasizes quality over quantity in practice.”
12. Special Advice for Singers
Singers may find themselves limited to practicing wherever there is a piano for pitch checking. They may also use a computer with internet access to YouTube karaoke tracks, or a smart phone with organized music tracks.
However, you can practice without all of that stuff!
“I find when I’m practicing voice, I often move around my house,” said music teacher Leah Rockweit. “I like to practice in different sized rooms and spaces because when you perform, the space will always be different. I like to encourage students to find ways to be creative with how and where they practice voice.”
Accommodating all of these suggestions is impossible for most imperfect human beings. Perhaps what’s most valuable to remember is that practice time or space may never, or rarely, be perfect. What matters is not the pursuit of perfection, but the pursuit of practice.