It rarely gets said that whilst you should be practising for your upcoming music exam, you should do it in a way that is productive and good for your own mental and physical health.

We know how it is - practice can be tedious and sometimes it feels like it can take over your life in the weeks approaching your exam. However, we have some great news for you: it doesn’t need to be this way!

We have come up with some tips on how to make the most out of your practice sessions. Yes, we’re talking turning those 5-hour performance procrastinations into a 2-hour productive practice. We’re talking exercise breaks, short sessions, small goals, and stopping for snacks (this being most important, of course) – oh, and listening to LOADS of music. Who doesn’t want that?! You can make your practice sessions work best for you and come out with that result that you’ve always dreamed of!

Number One - Good Preparation

It probably goes without saying that in order to feel confident for your exam you must be well prepared. We all have different methods that work for us but, however you do it, getting that practice in is very important. It can be hard finding the motivation to practise, or the inspiration to pick up those drum sticks, that guitar, or put your fingers on those keys. One of our top tips is to set a timer on your phone. Short and sweet – maybe 30 minutes if you can manage it! After 30 minutes of uninterrupted focus, take a short break to make a cup of tea, walk round the block, or whatever takes your fancy. You’ll be amazed by how setting the timer really makes you commit to your practise. You might even want to go on for longer – crazy!

Number Two - Positive Mindset

You may be thinking, “well, that’s easier said than done!”, and you’d be right of course! However, it’s really important to view your playing, practising and performing in a positive light when you can. A great tip that we were once told was to keep a little journal where you can write down some of the positive things you have achieved in that day. Maybe you nailed your nemesis-scale, or perhaps you smashed the first half of the piece or finally played that rhythm correctly. Whatever it is, if you can focus on the things you’ve achieved, exam prep can feel a lot less overwhelming.

Number Three - Take Regular Breaks

Yes, you heard that right. This is your permission slip to stop practising! Bet you didn’t expect to hear that?! We’ve all been there, where we’ve locked ourselves away for 10 hours, with the aim of doing nothing but practise, practise, practise. We may have done great for the first hour, but for the last nine hours we’ve procrastinated and not made much further progress! This is why taking regular breaks is so imperative. Stepping away from the practice space will refresh the mind and reduce stress. Just like you might set a timer for your practise, set a timer for breaks too. That way, you won’t cut them short (or take just another five minutes, am I right?).

Number Four - Set Small, Achievable Goals

If we look at exam prep as one big task, it feels HUGE. Even learning one piece can seem like a beast if we don’t break it down into smaller parts. Setting large goals like this can also just set ourselves up for failure if we cannot achieve them, which is why setting small goals that are achievable is the way to go! For example, aiming to learn the first four bars is much more manageable, and you are far more likely to succeed and feel positive about your progress. In your next practice session, you can learn the next four and before you know it, the piece is complete!

Number Five - Maintaining Your Physical Health

Generally, practising for an exam requires a lot of sitting down, but whilst it is lovely to get comfortable and play your instrument, we still need to get up and move around every once in a while. You definitely don’t need us to tell you that even going for a walk can sharpen your brain, boost your mood and bolster your memory. Now who doesn’t need more of those things to improve your confidence before an exam?!

Number Six - Listen!

It sounds simple, but listening to the music you’re practising can really bring it to life. We can get very easily bogged down with notes and rhythms and finger patterns and lose sight of the bigger picture. Listening to the song you’re learning will remind you that the smaller sections are part of a whole.

We hope these tips might help you push through some tough practice-blocks, find the motivation to start (and carry on!), or even change some of your current practices to become healthier and more productive. Do let us know how you’re getting on, and if there’s anything we can do to help!

If you haven’t already, download our free Six Steps to Success guide for more tips like this, to get you ready for your winter exam.

Six Steps to Exam Success

Our mobile phones can be one of the biggest distractions during practice sessions. Read our blog on How Musicians Can Use Social Media Effectively for some tips on that!