One of the easiest and most beneficial things that you can do to make your practice more effective and enjoyable, is to enter a space that as well set up and properly equipped.
By staying organized and having everything that you need at arm’s length, you’re more able to focus on the things that will actually bring your playing forward.
The Ultimate Practice Station
To begin with, let’s address the space itself. Ideally, your practice space will be well-lit, quiet and free from interruptions and distractions.
Quiet can be a scarce commodity in this day and age. But if you can find some, your music practice and study will be better for it. If you can, turn off TVs and radios, email notifications, ringers, and anything else that could interrupt you. Interruptions cost us massive amounts of time, as it takes a while to refocus to the point pre-interruption. There are very few things so important that they can’t wait for just a little while.
(If you are a parent reading this, your phone calls and conversations count. Establish a “silent zone” for your child’s practice. You will probably end up appreciating the quiet as much or more as your young musician.)
If you are practicing in a room that is used for other activities as well (such as a bedroom or living room) it can be very helpful to practice facing a corner, or wall. This can reduce the amount of visual distraction you may encounter. For instance, if you can also see your desk, or your closet, they may trigger thoughts about things on your “to do” list, or thoughts about some upcoming event or something that happened in the day. Ideally when we are practicing, there is nothing in our field of vision that may lead us to lose focus.
If you have a designated corner for your practice space, you can also hang helpful materials on the walls. You could have a list of repertoire, your practice agenda or other organizational tools, or helpful reminders, such as notes on the staff, or scale and chord diagrams. Some people like to have inspirational quotes or pictures as well. Anything goes, if it helps you to be more focused, productive or inspired.
Practice Room Furniture
Your choice of furniture is important as well. Preferably, you have a bench seat with no backrest. This will keep you upright and engaged. It is also important that your seat is an appropriate height for you. When sitting with your feet flat on the floor, the tops of your legs should be fairly flat, parallel with the floor, and your knees should be even with or slightly below your hips. If your knees are above your hips, your seat is too low.
You will also need a music stand. There are many available varieties, and they all work. You may find it nice to have a beautiful wood music stand, or you may like a simple folding wire music stand. Manhasset makes a very sturdy music stand, and there are many attachments you can buy, if you would like to “bling out” your music stand. These include pencil trays, lights, slide out extenders, cupholders, and just about anything else you can think of.
Another piece of furniture that is really useful, is some sort of shelf or cabinet. It is nice to have designated an organized space to put your books, sight reading material, past repertoire, reference materials, etc. If you are practicing in a multi-use room, having a cabinet that closes can keep things tidy and organized. This is also a nice place for those music related knickknacks and chotzskis that your loved ones may give you at holidays when they know that you are a musician.
You may also like a full-length mirror. Having a mirror or two to give you visual feedback on your sitting position and facial tension can be very helpful. I once had a heavily mirrored practice room, and learned all kind of things about myself. If you are vain and are drawn to looking at yourself (or simply stunningly beautiful and can’t help looking), you can position mirrors so that you can only see yourself from the neck down.
Nuts and Bolts of Music Practice
When you come to sit down to practice, it’s best to have everything you need right at your fingertips. So here are a few things that are present in most well-equipped practice spaces:
Pencils, highlighters, and colored pens – Pencils are a must. Highlighters and colored pens/pencils can come in handy in all sorts of practice and learning techniques. Colors are not necessary, but a pencil is essential.
Your practice journal or notebook – Many of the best players on all instruments report keeping very detailed practice notebooks. It’s a wonderful way to stay on track and move forward more quickly. It’s also nice feedback to see yourself progress toward goals. If you do not have a practice journal, I suggest you start one.
-There are also apps for your computer/phone/pad that act as practice journals. If you have the self-control not to constantly tinker with your gadget, these can be fine. Otherwise, a good old three-ring binder does the trick wonderfully. Either way, they only work if you use them.
There are also some basic tools and gear they come in handy.
Anything you use to take care of your nails. Your fingernail clippers, file, Emery board, nail paper, etc. If you don’t play with nails, you don’t have to worry about this one.
Next, your electronic tools. At the very least, the metronome is a must for any practice room. If you’re practicing music on a daily basis, you need a metronome. There are many varieties, and any will work. Simpler is often better.
An alternative for a metronome is GarageBand or something similar. Computer programs that offer drum loops are in effect fancy metronomes. Again, things with screens take self-control, as it’s very easy to just spend your time messing with the technology. But drum loops are great fun to play along with (especially scales or technical exercises).
Recording yourself and listening back with constructive criticism is a wonderful way to practice. Having some sort of small recording device and away to listen back to it is a great addition to your set up. When you are advancing in a piece of music, you can record it, and often times your next steps will be obvious to you. You may be doing things you didn’t know you were doing, or not doing things that you thought that you were doing. This can be like having a mini-lesson with a teacher and finding out what to do next. Often when we hear ourselves without the burden of actually playing, we can hear exactly what is working (or not), and whether or not our ideas are actually projecting.
Similar to recording yourself on an audio recorder, you can also video yourself and watch it with constructive criticism. You may find that you make horrible faces, or stick your tongue out. You may recognize excess tension in some limb, or simply bad posture. You may also recognize some simple change you could make in the way that you move around the instrument that would open new doors for your playing. It’s all just feedback and information.
You can also have any resource materials that you may find helpful during your practice. These could be:
- practice notebook or journal (as mentioned above)
- past repertoire
- reference materials
- lesson notes
- practice methods
- Or anything else that you may find useful.
Smart phones or pads in guitar practice
You may notice that many of the tools listed above can be found on a smart phone, tablet, or computer. It is perfectly fine to simply use one, multifunction device. Just make sure that you personally can remain focused while practicing. Technology has given us wonderful tools, but it is up to us to “not put the cart before the horse”, as they say. Sometimes the best option is simply pen and paper and a good, old-fashioned metronome.
To recap, the basic ingredients are:
- Quiet, well-lit space
- Appropriate seat
- Music stand
- Practice Journal
- Fingernail maintenance tools
Other nice options:
- Shelf or cabinet
- Audio recorder
- Video recorder
- GarageBand or drum loop player
- Resources and reference materials
- Pleasant decor
In closing, your practice space is a place designed to facilitate specific actions and accomplish specific goals. It can be great fun to outfit and set up the perfect little sanctuary for your daily practice. Create a private space that attracts you, and your practice can be a time of great enjoyment and reward.
If you have anything that you love about your space, please share it in the comments.