10 Time-Saving Practice Tips for Cello (or any instrument)

We all have days when we need to make our practice really count more than other days. You may be racing the clock and have to pick up the kids from school, need to make dinner, respond to all those emails... The list goes on and on.

Believe me I've heard it all and know my own list of excuses like the back of my bow hold. Here are a few tips and tricks I've learned from my own practice sessions. (Now, to follow my own advice...) ;)

  1. Write down your top 3 goals. Seriously, get a pencil and write down specific and measurable goals for just this one practice session. Do you want to play through that tough spot 10 times "successfully?" Zone in on that Ab major scale? Master that one booger of a shift? Write it down.

  2. Set an alarm. You'll be able to devote more focus and less worry. How much time do you have to dedicate to practice today? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? 45? By setting an alarm, you'll be eliminating the distraction of feeling the need to check your clock (or your phone - which seeing those notifications could derail the whole practice session!)

  3. Warm up & stretch out. This ensures that our body is really ready to get to work. Go through scales. Play slow open strings while really focusing on the way it feels to play your instrument today. Some of my students have even reported that it helps to walk around their block.

  4. Take a deep breath. Really sense the air filling your lungs and release all the excess tension and stress you've built up (probably due to a lack of time!) Rest easy that you've carved out and made the following amount of time sacred. Leave worry outside of this period of time. Let yourself worry about it once you're done practicing.

  5. Turn off all ringers/beeps and distractions. There is no such thing as a facebook emerency. Twitter can wait. So can your emails. I've even been known to totally turn off my phone and computer, so there's no chance of an easy and quick way out of practicing.

  6. Use your pencil! You guys! If you don't write it down, your brain feels responsible for retaining that information. Every time! If you're always missing that one shift, notate it. If you forget that it's a 2nd finger, not 3rd finger during that one measure, notate it. If you forget the bowings, NOTATE IT! Writing it down takes less time than you think and it truly helps.

  7. Take a break & check in with yourself. When you "get into the zone," sometimes we forget to ask our hands how they're doing. Are you curling your toes? Is your back straight? Take another deep breath. Take a sip of water. Do you need to go to the bathroom? Need a granola bar? Check in with yourself and give yourself the gift of space.

  8. SLOW first. This is a tough one, especially if we feel our practice time is running out. But everything you play during a power-practice session should be played slowly at first and mindfully always. Take my word for it: the slower, the better. You can always play it fast later.

  9. Set your timer. Pick a phrase that needs a medium amount of work. Set your timer to 2-5 minutes. Repeat the designated phrase as many times as you can until the time runs out. Most of my students are always shocked by how many times they can play it!

  10. Cool down & stretch. This is a great way to ramp down from an intense practice session. It gets our mind adjusted to the outside world again. Prepare yourself to encounter all those emails. Relish in the notion that you really did accomplish something productive today. Did you reach the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the practice session? I think you'll be surprised.

Do you have any other time-saving practice tips to share? Any personal experiences with the ones I've already listed?

Happy Practicing!