How to Practice Efficiently in 30 Minutes Or Less

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We're a few weeks into the school year now, and I am starting to settle into my new routine.

This year, I'm accompanying four school choirs and a church choir, playing a service every Sunday, and teaching four afternoons a week. I love the variety this offers and I love being back on the bench (organ and piano!), but it requires something we never seem to have enough time for as professionals - practicing. As a student, I had anywhere from 2-6 hours a day to practice, and though certainly intense, I now recognize that time was a luxury. As professionals, we gig, we teach, we play, we write, we email, we manage, we coordinate, we network. When is there time to practice?

My new schedule for the Fall has pockets of time and I'm learning to be extra productive and efficient with my practicing.

Here are a few things I'm learning:

15 minutes is enough time to make progress.

Most of the things I have to practice are short, 3-minute pieces. While 15 minutes might not seem like much time, you can make progress on 1-2 short pieces with focused, diligent practicing. Where do you have 15 minutes in your day that you could squeeze in a mini practice session?

Mark your music as you go.

I always have a pencil on the music rack to mark things as I go. Better to mark in a finger number or an accidental now than make the same mistake later.

Eliminate distractions.

I use the Metronome app to check tempo markings, but otherwise, I try to leave my phone out of reach so it's not a distraction.

Keep going.

As tempting as it may be to go back and fix every little thing, I find it's helpful to sightread all the way through the piece the first several times I sit down to play it. This helps me get a sense of the piece as a whole before breaking it into parts.

Rehearse the parts.

As a choral accompanist, a lot of what I do is play voice parts - one at a time and in various combinations. I always feel more prepared in rehearsal when I take a few minutes to rehearse parts at home (especially open score!). I also feel like this gives me a better sense of the piece as a whole.

Don't spend time on things you already know.

Practice time is valuable, so when you have a few minutes, spend it on the pieces that need practice. Once you've played through the piece a few times in other practice sessions, skip the easy parts and jump right into the harder sections.

What are your tips and tricks for practicing efficiently in short amounts of time?

More reading:
Efficient Piano Practice: 10 Expert Tips
A Better Way to Practice
Efficient Practicing for the Time-Crunched
Deliberate Practice: What It Is and Why You Need It