One of the biggest challenges music students face is finding time and motivation to get their practicing done consistently. Here are some tips to create a habit of practicing and make good progress when you do:
1) Pick a time every day when you know you won’t have something else to do and be consistent. Make practicing a habit as automatic as brushing your teeth.
2) Do it even when you don’t feel like it. Good habits function like compound interest, so small contributions that are made consistently can benefit a lot in the long run (like brushing your teeth!)
3) Have a general plan for what you are going to practice and what you would like to accomplish before you even open your case. Having clear objectives to pursue and complete in your practice time is rewarding, and habits that make you feel good about yourself are more likely to stick.
4) Spend 80% of your time working on details and small sections of music. I call this micro practicing. It is much more productive to zero-in on your trouble spots and carefully solidify the technical execution of challenging passages in small, bite-sized pieces than it is to run through pages at a time, fueled on hope that your trouble spot will just work itself out. Practice running through larger sections as well, but let that be 20% of the time. It is so fulfilling to let your musical expressiveness go, so don’t deprive yourself! But do use micro practice methods to give yourself a really strong foundation first.
5) Practice makes permanent, so practice in a way that minimizes mistakes! This is why I advocate micro practice methods. It is far easier to give careful attention to slow, accurate repetitions when you have smaller sections of music to work with, and that allows for success nearly every time you play it. Too often I observe my students begin their piece, make a mistake, stop, go back to the beginning, then replicate the same mistake, only to attempt to make yet another go at it as if some magic will intervene and untangle their fingers! That’s how you practice a mistake into permanence! Eventually, this student would probably break through the barrier after ramming it a few more times assuming that they’ve “fixed” that spot. But they haven’t, because while they succeeded once, they practiced the mistake multiple times. Reinforce the muscle memory of the correct way of playing the music, even if that means playing slowly. Slow and accurate repetitions will help you improve more than sloppy fast playing.