Gareth Montanarello

Improving Practice Time: Part 1

Updated: Dec 29, 2019

If you're like me, at any given time you have tons of music fighting for your attention. Audition excerpts, solo rep, gig music, and miscellaneous exercises all compete for chunks of your practice time and balancing everything without losing motivation can be a challenge. With that in mind, I compiled a list of some of the things I have done to make my practice time more efficient and enjoyable.

1. Ditch the apps: I suppose I should be careful here as I use apps for music-related tasks all the time, but I have found that if I really want to be focused, foregoing metronome and tuner apps for their physical counterparts is a wise move. Anytime my phone is on the stand, I get too tempted to check emails, answer texts, or post on Instagram instead of working on my music. I prefer to keep my phone on silent and in my backpack as opposed to deal with the constant distraction it offers. Since I have started doing this, I have noticed a tangible increase in my focus levels and my practice time is far more productive.

Now, that isn't to stay I never take advantage of apps. I use my phone all the time to make quick videos, reference scores, and listen to new recordings. There are certainly many benefits to these digital conveniences, but I reserve their use for times when I can afford to face the temptation of distraction.

2. Warm up by noodling: Over the years, I have come to realize that warming up on scales or other technical exercises is irritating. Instead, I prefer to get things flowing by sitting down and noodling for 5-10 minutes. I might play a random melody, improvise a quick solo, mess around with some chord voicings (yes, I love playing chords on bass), or spend a few minutes exploring different tones on my bass. Only after I have done this will I venture into scales and other technical exercises. I do this because when I first pick up my instrument, it takes a few minutes for my hands, body and mind to feel "in sync" and attempting to play anything where I feel the need to be actively aware of intonation, tone production, etc, right away usually results in frustration. Warming up this way doesn't.

3. Keep everything on hand: This is a fairly small thing I do but it pays huge dividends in terms of productivity and time-efficiency. I make an effort to keep everything I might need for the practice session either on the stand or within arm's reach of my playing position. Anything I can do to avoid getting up to find something is well worth the benefit of not breaking focus and saving a little practice time.

The Big Three Practice Aids: tuner/metronome combo; pencil; Liquid Talent, er...rosin

4. Take notes: Something I started doing way too late in the game but helpful nonetheless. My favorite way of doing this is with some sort of grid with boxes large enough to write in. I put what I am working on in the leftmost box and use the other boxes to the right for comments. I date the comments and keep several blank copies on hand so I can easily catalog my progress and identify potential pitfalls before the next practice session. There are plenty of ways to do this but I threw this one together in under a minute on Google Docs.

I have also started to write in dates for fingerings and bowings, something I started doing after listening to a Contrabass Conversations interview with Leon Bosch. This too allows me to catalog my thought processes and see how my technical approach to different passages changes with time.

That's all for this installment. I will be doing a part 2 for this series in the near future but in the meantime, I would love to hear about some ways that you have improved your practice time!


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