Having few time for the daily practice of your instrument can be frustrating. Let’s see then how to optimize the study to achieve your goals. Having few time for the daily practice of your instrument can be frustrating. Let’s see then how to optimize the study to achieve your goals.

Optimize the daily music study when you have few time

Strategies to improve your daily practice

There are moments when musicians are forced out of necessity to drastically limit the amount of time to dedicate to their practice, improvement and repertoire preparation. In these moments the discouragement or the temptation to give up may come.

After being in this situation I came to the conclusion that the problem was not the time available, but the way I was using it.

I then tried to solve the problem of how to optimize the practice time when you have few time: in other words, how to maximize the result. In this article I propose some personal solutions that I achieved after months, maybe years of non-optimized study.

I invite all those who want to share their experience at the comments section.

List of Contents

  1. Being aware of not having time

  2. Being aware of what and how we are doing wrong

  3. Quantify the available time

  4. Planning the daily study program

  5. Get into the score ASAP

  6. Conscious memory

  7. Managing the saturation point

  8. What if it’s not about time but concentration?

  9. The most important thing

  10. Conclusions

1. Being aware of not having time

The first step to start optimizing your time is to understand that you don’t have enough of it.

It took me months to fully realize that my time availability had changed. I saw that my practice had become inefficient but the mind still didn't accept the change: I continued with the old mode as if I had hours and hours available every day.

2. Being aware of what and how we are doing wrong

The second step is to understand how we were using (badly) the time until that moment, identifying those errors that constitute a psychological and operational limit.

A starting point is to think about how you studied up to that moment. I made a list of my mistakes (I think they're probably the most common).

The mistakes I made

One of the main mistakes I made was to insist too much on the perfect execution of certain bars (mostly the initial ones), without first acquiring a general comprehension of the score.

Another common error was not distributing in equal parts the practice time among the various works of the repertoire and focusing too much just on some of them, completely neglecting the others.

Then you have the unconscious memory error. Memorizing a song as soon as possible is fine, but this memory must have solid bases and do not rely solely on motor or short-term memory.

Last, another frequent mistake I made was not managing correctly my saturation point, that moment when you insist too much on a section to advance in the study of a score. Actually you obtain the opposite result: it is not by insisting that you learn to play a score, but managing the learning process and respecting the natural process of the nervous system, which needs time to generate new psychomotor connections.

The strategy

As in war, in the face of an enemy that bewilders us, it becomes fundamental to adopt a winning strategy. Here are the steps for an optimization strategy.

3. Quantify the available time

It is crucial to understand how much time you have during the week to be able to plan for your study.

Evaluate how much time you can spend studying every day. Do not neglect even those 15 minutes available, they can be enough to study a bar and memorize it.

It may be useful to prepare a calendar with time slots available on different days of the week: this allows you to have a global vision of your time. You can download a week planner clicking here or on the image below.

Music Workout Week Planner
Click on the image to download

4. Planning the daily study program

In order not to waste energy it is necessary to determine what to study before starting the practice session. My advice is to reduce the daily practice to the minimum necessary.

Pauca sed matura

We are constantly besieged by the desire to do billions of things a day. However, the reality is that time is short. So better to concentrate on one, two things a day, no more.
Pauca sed matura, said K. F. Gauss.
Few, but ripe.

5. Get into the score ASAP

To get into the score means to have played it all, and have an idea of all the problems related to playing it.

A first goal consists of knowing technical aspects related to the playing of the score, like fingers scheme or in the case of bandoneon by the movements of bellows. A first auditory goal consists of listening to the version that "comes out of our instrument while we are playing it", and listening to pre-existing versions as well.

The union of these first "goals", even if inaccurate and insecure, constitutes (using the jargon I learned at the Buenos Aires Conservatory) a primer armado, that is, a first version.

A first full version, though inaccurate, is much better than a partial version. In fact, from experience I have seen that it is easier to intervene on the various sections of the score having a global overview of it.



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6. Conscious memory

Memorizing the score ASAP is fundamental, but your memory process should be substantial from the beginning.

A substantial memory is not entrusted to short-term memory, or to fleeting motor learning (the so-called "memory of the hands").

Learn to study through sections

To effectively memorize a score is essential to learn a progressive and programmed practice based on sections. By section I mean any part where the score can be divided to be studied. This is a dynamic concept as the section is short or long as necessary, and can be extended or reduced. At the beginning the sections will be short (a bar or even less) and gradually extended, until the section becomes the score itself. The section study should be repeated until its memorization (fijación).

Suddividere lo studio della partitura per sezioni.
Example of application of the section concept
(from La Cachila, arr. R. Daluisio).

After studying the score a first time (primer armado) it's very useful to study it again by changing some variables, like the speed of play (slower, faster etc.), the sound intensity and so on. Each new study of the score constitutes a new version (nuevo armado) and each new version improves knowledge and the memory of the score. The possible versions are many, almost infinite. Returning to a study through sections with the "changing variables" approach consolidates the fijación.

Also the knowledge of the formal and theoretical elements of music contributes to conscious memory. I refer to form and structure, harmony, counterpoint and musical elements (cadences, scales, arpeggios, intervals, etc.)

7. Managing the saturation point

Managing the saturation point means understanding when it's no longer convenient to insist on a section (or even a score) and it's more appropriate to dedicate yourself to another section (or another score) leaving time for the neurological system to generate the psychomotor connections needed to play the score.

Don't insist when the saturation point is reached, it's counterproductive and harmful.

8. What if it’s not about time but concentration?

Could be easy to think that the available time is little when actually we are simply using it badly for a concentration problem: I find it is quite normal when you're repeating an activity every day for a long time (music practice).

Practicing without concentration, without precise goals can give the false feeling that time is short, when in reality it is enough but we are using it in the incorrect manner.

Otherwise, studying with concentration means having clear objectives and knowing how to reach them.

9. The most important thing

The most important aspect is undoubtedly willpower.
Let’s face it: time is not the problem.
Who longs for a result, finds time for it.

As an example and inspiration I would like to mention Wes Montgomery, jazz guitar player. During the day he worked as a welder in a workshop, and studied guitar at night.

Jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, example of an iron will.
Jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, example of an iron will.

10. Conclusions

As musicians, the moment when we realize that the time available for practice is drastically reduced can represent a crisis. We tend to give the term "crisis" a negative connotation, while its etymology refers to the meaning of decision, choice and, by extension, change.

Having less time can therefore become an opportunity to review our approach to study.

Learning to optimize the available time means being able to do in less time what before, without concentration, required more. And then the quality of our study will be drastically increased.

I think that what is stated in this article can be applied to any field, not just to the study of music.

Insights



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