What constitutes effective practice is a widely debated topic—and a very personal one. In truth, there's no single answer, as a fully effective strategy is individualized.
It's important for musicians to be open to numerous tactics to find the best one for them and to be open to a new strategy even if you feel confident in your own system—a change of pace always helps with engagement while practicing.
That said, a few rules for achieving effective practice remain constant:
1. Stay organized
There's no chance of staying on task and making progress without a system of organization. For me, keeping a practice journal is generally effective, but sometimes feels too limiting. When the idea of writing down everything in a practice session becomes overwhelming, I take a break from journaling. I do not find such days without journaling to be any less productive, just different. On balance, however, methods of staying organized help me to stay productive and engaged for extended periods of time during each practice session.
2. Set clear goals
Whether you write down your goals in a journal, stick them to your walls, write them on your bathroom mirror or simply keep them in your head, it's crucial to track why you're doing what you're doing. What do you hope to achieve? How is this action going to help you reach your goals? Remind yourself of these things regularly to keep your work in perspective. For example, don’t mindlessly play through exercises just because someone told you to; rather, think about what the exercise is for and what it's doing for you. If you struggle to answer these questions, perhaps it's not a worthwhile exercise for you.
3. Maintain consistency
Consistency is essential, but it takes many forms. For instance, I do not have the exact same warmup routine every single morning although I always address the same concepts. Every morning includes time devoted to stretching, intonation exercises and technical exercises. That said, each day I spend different amounts of time with each concept and use slightly different exercises to achieve the same goals. If your warmup is exactly the same every day, it becomes a rote which makes it difficult to maintain the heightened focus needed to fully evaluate yourself.
Remember, playing your instrument for even a short period of time is better than not at all. Amidst COVID-19 and quarantine restrictions, this may be especially difficult—but also especially important.
Odds are, if you're a musician, playing your instrument (or singing) brings you some level of joy. Remind yourself of this joy and play enjoyable music as often as possible. We’ll play together again soon enough, so don’t lose track of your passion.
Nicole Peters is originally from Ithaca, New York, and is a senior pursuing a bachelor's degree in flute performance as well as a certificate in music entrepreneurship with a minor in business. When not practicing flute, Nicole can be found hiking and petting any nearby dogs.