What do you practice?

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When you practice the fiddle, what do you practice? Scales, bowing, tunes. But you also practice something else, something more powerful. You practice practice itself.

The practice of practice can carry over to all other parts of your life. You can apply the principles to any habit or skill: losing weight, meditation, learning to cook, starting a business. The basic principles are:

  • Start small, but start now.
  • Do it every day.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • One thing at a time.

Start small, but start now

You can’t fully predict how things will go, and you can’t plan everything out. If you tried to understand and figure out everything before beginning, you would never take the first step. So you just have to start. When you play a new tune, you don’t know what the hard parts are until you play it through.

In the same way, when you start a new business you might try to solve all the conceivable problems before they crop up. Or, when you form a new relationship, you might live a full imaginary life with that person before even going on the first date.

Start with something small. Learn the first phrase of a tune, write a simple business plan, set up a fun first date to your local miniature golf course (wait, I’m no longer in junior high). Answers and solutions will come naturally once you are involved with the process of doing.

How can you start now?

Do it every day

Habit is not a bad word. And it’s not necessarily a good word. It’s simply  a feature that has evolved in our brains to make decision-making more efficient. Repeated behaviors become automatic so you don’t have to waste time thinking about how to act.

If you’re in the habit of brushing your teeth before bed, then you don’t have to have a debate with yourself about whether or not you should do it. This habit has freed up time and mental energy to focus on other things. In the same way, if practicing is a habit that happens at the same time and place, then you don’t have to devote mental resources to planning your next session.

How do you establish a habit of practicing fiddle? Habits are cued by context which means that if you do it at the same time in the same place every day, this action is more likely to become a routine. Soon, you won’t have to plan it; you’ll just do it. Choose to make music practice a priority by carving out a time and place to do it, as well as letting those around you know your intention.

Learn more here: How to practice consistently.

Learn from your mistakes

In the course of learning anything, mistakes are necessary and helpful events. If you pay attention, then you can leverage your mistakes to improve whatever you’re trying to learn. Ask yourself, “what is the exact thing I need to focus on to not make this mistake again.” Then just try to find a way to practice that precise thing.

This is the core teaching of FiddleHed. All I do is look at what’s hard in tunes and then make up exercises from that to help students. Once you learn how to make up exercises, you can do it on your own with any tune, any instrument or really any new skill you are learning.

Another great tool for learning from mistakes is journaling. This brings awareness to the process of practice. Find some way to keep track of what you’ve done and what was hard. That way you can return to it the next day. Instead doing a bunch of different things, you’ll make solid progress on one thing which will improve other aspects of your playing and give you confidence.

In the same way that you keep track of your music practice, you can track other the other habits and skills you are working on.

Learn more about this here: How To Track Your Practice.

One thing at a time

Don’t try to add a whole bunch of new positive habits all at once, or else you’ll wind up giving up on all of them. Once music is established as a daily habit, then you can move on to eating less sugar, working out more or whatever you want to do more of.

There’s one more thing you practice when you practice music: you practice making a good choice. You are choosing to spend your time doing something you love. And in doing so, you are choosing to NOT do something else that does not bring as much happiness.

OK! Now go fiddle with it…

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3 responses to “What do you practice?

  1. For a while there, I was dedicating 30 minutes each practice session to scales, arpeggios, etc., before trying some of my favorite Irish tunes. Then, I tried to incorporate my pinkie. It threw me for a loop and into a downward (practice) spiral. I’m back on the horse now, but my “music” still sounds like someone stabbed the bagpipes.
    My new T-shirt will read, “Play like no one is listening (and hope they’re not).”
    P.S. If you ever want to clear a park, whip out the (beginner) violin. 🙂

  2. Right now I’m trying to “perfect” the 12 bar blues bass walk in G (first string).
    I’m very proficient at electric lead guitar but this instrument of humility is giving me a run for my money. Especially the C part.
    I feel it’s going to be good to be able to get that down as it causes me to have to fret a lot in different fret positions.

    Yes I have frets on my fiddle. Acoustic guitar geared tuners too.

  3. I really appreciate your step by step encouraging philosophy to learning to play music. The “How to play In Tune” course has been very helpful and the time goes by quickly while I am practicing with your suggested techniques! Thanks! Tunes are sounding better too!