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Little and Often – How to Practice

So you’ve decided to learn the recorder. Congratulations! You’ve chosen a wonderful instrument. 🙂 Or maybe you’ve been playing for a long time. Congratulations to you, too!

Within the very first few lessons, your teacher (or your tutor book, if you haven’t got a real live person to teach you yet) will have told you about the importance of practice. And they’re right – it is important to work at home on what you’ve covered during your lesson. But how? And how much?

It is really tempting to think that you should be doing masses and masses of practice. We hear stories about famous musicians who practice for 10 or even 12 hours every day. And no matter how experienced we are or how long we’ve been playing, it is really tempting to beat ourselves up for not practicing enough.

But in my other life as a student of singing, I read a wonderful article by Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba that put my mind at rest and completely took the pressure off. She wrote:

Your practice should be divided into periods of actual singing. At first they should be very short, not more than five minutes at a time, gradually working up to twenty minutes. Three periods of twenty minutes each are enough for any student.

The point is that when you practice, you’re working on a specific element of the music for a specific reason. And if you’re just starting out, you are learning a whole new set of skills. And it makes sense to do it right.

But that takes concentration. And especially when you’re doing something completely new, you’re best off working in small units of time so that you can maintain a good level of attention.

And if you’re an experienced player, Dame Nellie has an extra instruction for you. Only physically play for short periods, but…

the time of study, apart from actual singing, should extend over several hours daily.

Melba wants you to spend time on the music, studying both the recorder line and any accompaning parts.

So, here are the Melba rules for practice:

  • Physical practice should be done little and often
  • Spend time, and plenty of it, studying the music.

How will this help you practice?