“Practising is not only playing your instrument, either by yourself or rehearsing with others – it also includes imagining yourself practising.”
Time hides from us. Often, we are prevented from sitting down with our guitar or at the piano because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But there are pockets of time we can utilise to practise in an entirely different way – without our instruments. This may come as a shock, but it’s true!
Once you recognise where these moments are (on your commute from work, during a walk in the park, or getting up early to eat a quiet breakfast), there is no stopping how much you can do. The time you spend away from your instrument allows for an entirely unique and valuable form of practice.
Check out these ideas for practising and improving your musical form while you’re on the go, even without touching your instrument.
Picture yourself holding your instrument; let your fingers remember their movements by watching them in your mind. If you need to, close your eyes. Think of it as a form of meditation.
It’s all more scientific than it sounds. When you visualise yourself this way, your brain has a similar experience as when you are physically holding your instrument. Studies have shown that mental simulation of movements will activate some of the same central neural structures required when you make the actual movements.
In other words, daydreaming you are sitting at home with your guitar is not a waste of time!
Audiation, the ability to hear and comprehend sound, is often said to be the foundation of musicianship. Edward E. Gordon, a music theorist, claims that “audiation is to music what thought is to speech.” Just as we internalise language and vocabulary, so must we acquire musical patterns.
While not all of us can write entire symphonies in our head (::cough – Mozart – cough::), we can learn to hear music in our mind through recollection or creating it ourselves just about anywhere. Which brings us to…
There’s an App for That
Technology. Most of us consider our smartphones to be a necessary part of our everyday lives and almost always have some sort of technologic resource at hand. (Truthfully, we don’t remember life before Google.)
Depending on your device of choice, there are several apps that can help you develop your audiation skills on the go. For a head start, check these out:
- Walk Band (for Android). This app allows you to experiment with several different types of instruments, including drum beats and guitar chord arrangements. You can also record any arrangements you create while on the go!
- Easy Ear Training apps (for Apple). The interactive apps from Easy Ear Training are designed for musicians, singers, music students, and anyone interested in improving their musical ear. They have apps for learning intervals, chords, singing and more!
- Perfect Ear 2 (for Android). While this app is one for those learning to play piano or keyboard, it can also be used as a way of training your ears to recognise certain notes and chords, and can help improve memory when performing certain notes. It’s like boot camp for your ears.
- Music Journal (for Apple). A sort of personal organiser, Music Journal allows you to manage your practice routine. See at a glance which pieces you haven’t practised in a while and automatically log practice time and beats per minute for each song. This might be a great app to use for your Progress Journal.
You might be one of those people who really dislikes going to the gym, but you can’t deny the long list of benefits exercise provides. Some of the same principles of consistency in physical activity apply to playing music.
The next time you’re dreading your sweat session, think about this: forming an exercise routine can help with concentration, efficiency, endurance, and discipline, which all help your musical practice, too. That means that although taking time to go to the gym or take a run around the neighbourhood is time away from your instrument, you’re actually improving yourself as a musician. Who would have thought?
Just remember: whatever activity you chose, make sure it does not harm or interfere with your ability to play music. Don’t go breaking your piano fingers in the boxing ring!
As Mozart said, it is important to constantly be “swallowed up in music…speculating, studying, considering.” You don’t have to be perfect at mental practising. Developing your own routine and sticking to it is bound to make you a better musician. Immersing yourself in theory books, tapping your foot in the waiting room, or singing at the top of your lungs in your car can all be considered instrumental practice.
Perhaps the key to all of this is to believe in yourself – you are, after all, the real instrument who makes the music.
We hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any other suggestions to optimise your music practise, share with us in the comments below!