Tips for Practicing Irish Music
February 1, 2016 by Jeff Ksiazek
Whether they're beginning or have been playing for a while, we often run across students who struggle with practice time between classes lessons each week. As teachers and musicians juggling our own schedules, we totally understand! Life can get crazy, and sometimes it's overwhelming to even think about sitting down to work on tunes or technique. Don't despair, you're in good company. To help make the most of your Irish music (or any style of music) practice time, we've compiled a few tips to help make getting started less daunting.
Make a practice area
Figure out a space at home that’s comfortable for your practice sessions. Ideally this will be an area free from distractions (whether those include your TV, computer, books, etc.) and quiet to facilitate learning. If you can store your instrument and gear needed while practicing (recordings, metronome, notes, and the like) in the same place, even better -- you'll save time setting up each session.
Experiment with practice time of day
Are you tired after work or school and can’t seem to find time (or energy!) to practice? Try getting up a bit earlier and running some tunes in the morning. Or maybe bring your instrument to work and practice in the car after your lunch break. The key is finding a time that works for you consistently to work on your goals.
Ten minute practice sessions
If the thought of setting aside an hour or more for practicing seems daunting, keep this in mind: it’s far better to practice ten minutes a day for a whole week than have one 70 minute practice session on a Sunday afternoon. Why is that? Musical skills like building muscle memory, remembering tunes, and tone production require consistent work to make progress. Commit to practicing ten minutes a day with a well-planned schedule to see long-term improvement.
Breakdown practice time
Along with committing to a consistent, ten minute practice session, breaking down your practice time is important to make your learning time efficient. A simple example might look something like this:
- Warmup exercises – 1 minute
- Weekly goal (see below) – 2 minutes
- Ornament exercises (rolls, cuts, crans) – 2 minutes
- Work on new tune – 5 minutes
- Free to stop or keep playing!
Set weekly goals
We all have issues with our playing that need work or refreshment. This might be tone production, maybe there are a couple measures from a certain tune that are tricky to remember, or you need to work on making sure your tempo is steady. Each week, pick something that you’re struggling with and work on that right after your warmups during each practice session. Commit to working on that area for a week and assess your progress for next week’s practice sessions.
Hopefully these tips will help make your practice time more manageable and enjoyable. And take advice from County Sligo flute player Eddie Cahill and play the music from your heart.
"Playing a flute is like writing a book. You're telling what's in your heart...It's easier to play if it's right from your heart. You get the tone, and the fingers will follow." -- Eddie Cahill, 1929-1985.
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