Creating A Proper Practice Routine In The Current Environment

Be sure and check out the entire class on YouTube!

Hope for the best but move forward with the spirit of innovation and the attitude of adaptability. Waiting things out is not a strategy. 

I think this message is important right now. If you are someone who is sitting on the fence waiting for things to "return to normal" I believe that although you are well-meaning (and I am even with you in spirit) that is a mistake. Time marches on whether we like it or not. If you make the choice to put down your instrument during this time, you will be left behind. I believe that this is true for many things in our world. We should all hope for the best but move forward with the attitude of adaptability. I'm not saying that it's going to be easy but the sooner we move forward from a position of innovation and strength, the sooner we can discover that joy and progress is just as much a state of mind as it is a function of our environment.

This post is the perfect supplement to my post Online Lessons Learned. Much of my recent work is related to creating a new paradigm for learning so you'll definitely find parallels. Personally, I have no problem with that. It's a brave new world and we have to get the message out even if from time to time we are redundant. I see many students learning a great deal but I see others making mistakes. I don't want my students or you to fail so I don't mind reinforcing my message.

So much of what made a great practice routine before stays the same so I will definitely hit all of the basics here. With that said, there are many new things that we can explore. As I mentioned above, we need create a new paradigm for success. This means innovating, thinking differently, and being in the here and now.

My focus as a musician is drums and percussion but I've tried to focus this post on music in general and the study of all instruments. I believe that these strategies are universal and will help students and teachers on all instruments. If you are interested in something very specific to drums and percussion I will definitely post some basics in the future. In the meantime, you can check out a short lesson videos series I made Simon Boyar Drum Lessons. I also would encourage you to reach out for lessons. My students at the Simon Boyar School of Drums and Percussion are well acquainted with what constitutes a solid practice routine on their instrument :)

1. When it comes to practicing and improving, goal setting and purpose must be the driving force behind the relationship with your instrument.
We are currently in a world of uncertainty. Your instrument is a part of you and it has the potential to ground you in a very positive way. However, this dynamic is a deliberate process. If you set goals and organize yourself, you will get results. It's just that simple. This is something that RIGHT NOW is absolutely within your control and to not take advantage of that is in my opinion a HUGE mistake. Unfortunately, I've already seen it quite a bit. I realize that in a world of online learning you may be tired and the last thing you want to do is put effort into organizing your practice routine. Just remember that the difference between a goal and a dream is a plan of action. Without a plan of action all of the hard work that you've put into playing your instrument will wash away into a dream. During this time the risk of that happening is very real. Many of my students have had success creating a practice log for themselves. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Here are a few quick examples current students are using:

Addison started basic drum exercises with metronome markings on day 1 of quarantine to keep track of her daily progress. Very smart move. Now 2 months later she's much farther along and it shows!

Saya prefers a more detailed approach. She sets her goals each day and even makes personal notes. Her practice log encourages a helpful internal dialogue that carries into our lessons. Extremely productive!

No matter how naturally talented you are, playing music is hard work. The world is full of talented people who no longer play. I'm afraid that the world may be full of more of them if we aren't willing to get organized, set goals, and make this happen. You are stuck at home. Your instrument will not get up and play itself and results won't happen on their own. Again, it is a deliberate and focused process and the best part is, it's something that you can control. Now and always. Get in the habit of setting goals each day. You won't be sorry!

2. You must organize your playing into strengths and weakness. Use this as a framework to apply #1 and set goals.
Many of you have more time than ever before but you may wonder "how can I actually get organized?" My first suggestion is to take a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses (hopefully with the help of a serious instructor). This should provide a framework for you to get started. For example, in the above practice log that Addison made we began setting her goals for this online period by revisiting an issue that she was constantly struggling with. She had a great deal of tension in her playing. A weakness for sure. As a result, we began the process of rebuilding her hands using classic methods such as Stick Control by George Lawrence Stone and Master Studies by Joe Morello. She was organized and extremely focused. Now 2 months later she is much more relaxed. She fixed the issue and her work has paid off. Bravo Addison!

Like many things, this has ALWAYS been good practice but like so many things in our extraordinary times, these things matter more than ever. There are no half measures in this environment. If you don't zero in and do the work, you are going to struggle. It's important to get your weaknesses right and make a solid plan where you have the right attitude and take things step by step. As for your strengths, they will be the basis on which you begin the process of making music and content happen for yourself (see #4).

3. Fundamentals have always been important. They are still important.
Fundamentals have always been absolutely crucial. I've found that the students who had better grasp of fundamentals prior to everything moving online have on the whole done A LOT better than students who didn't. Let's be clear. This was already the case prior to everything moving online but again the trend is almost always accelerated. As you formulate your practice routine, the first order of business needs to be a working grasp of the fundamentals. ALL scales, ALL rudiments, and SOLID reading skills. With the help of your teacher, make a list of what you don't know and begin the process of setting goals to address the issue. Many of my early online lessons with students did just that and now a few months later, many students are slowly but surely reaping the rewards. You won't get anywhere in this environment without the fundamentals. The more things change the more they...well you know the saying.

4. Be sure that your setup encourages your practice and ease. Constantly refer back to this point as you read onward in this post.
After years of playing I can tell you with the utmost confidence that subtle shifts in your energy output add up and make a difference. I remember when I was a kid, I used to have my drum set setup in the basement and everything else (my pad, music stand, books, and concert snare) was upstairs in my room. I would prepare for my NJ Region Band auditions upstairs and then go downstairs to practice drum set. It was fine but I always noticed a shift when I went to play drum set. I hate to admit it but maybe I even played less drum set. Eventually, I moved everything up to my room so everything was in one place and as a result practicing just felt easier and yes, I played more drum set. I think that very often, students overlook things like this. It's natural to make these kinds of mistakes. Sometimes setups work better in theory than in practice. In my case, it seemed like a great idea in theory to have my drums in the basement. In practice, I spent more time in my room and having my drums there encouraged me to play them more. It's not that I didn't want to play, it's just that the path was crooked rather than straight. The closet distance between two points is a straight line.

Like most things in learning music, this concept applies to everything else. Sheet music, music stands, cables, sticks, mallets, whatever! If you are constantly setting up, and resetting, it will make things more difficult. These things might seem insignificant when taken one at a time but when put together, they can and will add up into a massive amount of energy that directly cuts into and degrades your work. So for example, if you are doing work on pad, have a clean setup for that with a chair, stand, and sticks ready to go. If you are practicing drum set and recording videos, have the tripod set up and prepositioned so all you have to do is hit record. Cables should be already plugged in and properly set. If there is anything else you can do to save time, try and make it happen. Maybe you need to consider purchasing an extra music stand so you don't have to keep resetting it. Whatever you need to do just do it! You can then focus on what's most important. Also, I definitely understand that's it's not always possible to have a perfect setup. Not everyone has the space or situation. However, I promise that putting in the effort no matter your personal situation will almost always make a positive impact.

5. Videos, audio files, and practice logs are now a VERY important supplement to your progress. You will pivot off of these things to propel yourself forward. They need to be a part of your daily routine. 
I've mentioned this in other posts. I consider this to be the "new normal" and in my opinion it's here to stay. While nothing new, like so many things these days the trend has simply been accelerated. First things first. Set up a google doc and make a practice log (check out a few examples above for ideas). Share it with your teacher. Then set up either a google drive or dropbox account in the cloud and begin making videos of your progress. Share it with your teacher. Building a library of content for yourself will serve to hold you accountable and track your progress. This shouldn't take very much work. You then want to incorporate this into your routine so for example, if you are working on p.16 in Stick Control (flam beats) you might do some slow metronome work in a practice session and then record a video when you are done. The next day you can start out by watching the video, critique it yourself, and then repeat the process if necessary. When the day comes for your lesson, your teacher can quickly check out your progress and use your files as an additional tool. All of this should now be incorporated into your daily practice routine. This will also be helpful down the road. You will be able to look back, ascertain you longterm trajectory, and keep yourself honest. This is a very important thing when learning in the current environment.

6. Make time to have fun. Make time to be creative. Your own output is more important than ever before!
In an environment where you may not be able to participate in performance groups, ensembles or even just directly play with other musicians, your practice routine should naturally lead into creative work. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that you are incapable of this. The idea of being creative can mean many different things to many different people. I urge you to find a way through all of the numerous tools at your disposal to make it happen for yourself. You have to be open-minded and willing to see the exciting new world of possibilities for yourself. Never before has it been easier or more natural to be creative. I have 4th and 5th graders using tools like the Yamaha EAD10 to record songs. Other students are using GarageBand to create their own music. Even just coming up with a creative practice log that incorporates videos is a great idea that you can truly make your own. You have access to the tools to learn how to "use" what you are learning. If you are not motivated by this, if this doesn't get you more excited than ever before to play and work towards new musical challenges, I respectfully submit that you may need to reconsider studying music.

A paradigm shirt is occurring each and every day. We all have to make a choice to either evolve or remain stagnant. It's starts with your mindset and your practice routine. If you are an educator or student and you have additional experiences I would love to hear from you!


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