3 Ways to Practice Silently
Let’s not kid ourselves. The best way to practice is to play your instrument regularly. Take advantage of the summer and play something fun like Star wars, The Greatest Showman, or anything that your student loves!
Students who aren’t practicing over summer can lose the “feel” of their instrument. But it can be hard to practice without the guidance of their director, or they may not have their instrument in summer! Luckily, there are some techniques to try practicing without making any noise.
Technique 1: Mental Practicing
“Mental practice” is an exercise in which the player envisions themselves going through the motions of practicing music. The idea is that your mind is engaged at the same level as it would be if the instrument were in your hands. Try it a few times to see if there’s a difference in your playing.
Dr. Noa Kageyama, a Julliard alumnus, professor, and performance psychologist, has a 6-step system to mental practice:
1. Calm down
Relax your body so that you’re prepared for practice. You can do calming breathing exercises or stretching, anything that relaxes you.
2. “Expand your focus”
Focus on something, your stand, instrument, etc., mentally. See it in your head and as you practice, start to see more of the item’s detail.
3. Warm up
Envision warming up, and try to feel the physical aspects of playing: how your fingers move, how your instrument sounds, and how your body moves.
As you mentally play your pieces, concentrate on how the exercise feels and sounds, and continue to play until you hear a mistake.
5. Work through mistakes
Dr. Kageyama calls this step “TiVo it.” When you hear or feel a mistake, work through it as you would in the practice room. “Pause” and then “rewind” until the phrase sounds correct and feels right in your head.
6. Keep it real
Throughout this exercise, try to keep the feeling and sound of playing as real and vivid as possible in order to keep the rehearsal authentic and meaningful.
Read more about Dr. Kageyama’s system on his website.
Technique 2: Active Listening
“Active listening” is an exercise in which the player listens to their music with full attention.
Background music doesn’t qualify as active listening. The listener needs to fully concentrate, understand, respond to, and remember what is being played.
Though it won’t replace practicing your music, it will familiarize you with it, and you can develop a deeper understanding of what you’re playing. You will begin to recognize the different musical sections and phrasing, and will also be able to cut down on review time.
Also, in this experiment, researchers found that non-musicians who actively listened to a passage played it better than those who didn’t.
Technique 3: Watch It
Watching performances of your pieces can develop your musicianship by means of technique and expression. If you see a professional using proper technique, you may be able to understand and develop it yourself.
Expression is an elusive aspect of music, and seeing how a professional “communicates” during performance may give you a better understanding of the concept. Hopefully you will start to think about what you’d like to communicate during your performance as well!
This type of study doesn’t have to be extensive or strenuous, but doing something over the summer is a wonderful way to develop your musicianship outside of regular school band and orchestra.
And remember, lots of private teachers enroll new students into their studios in summer, so if you think your student would benefit from some summer lessons (which they would, obviously), check some of them out! Our studios are a great starting point.