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Can Music Practicing Be Done in Microbursts?

Andrew Clark

August 2, 2016

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Have you heard of high-intensity interval training? It is exercise in a flash. Do an extremely strenuous form of exercising for one minute and it can yield the benefits of as much as forty-five minutes of moderate exercise.

The New York Times did a few interesting pieces on this subject. 

Can music practicing be done in microbursts?


Reading about this made me wonder if the concept of high intensity training could be applied to music practicing. First of all, it should not be applied literally. Don’t blast away on your instrument or start to sing at the top of your lungs without proper warm up - ever! That is a quick way to get seriously hurt if you are a singer. It will lead to very bad habits on almost any musical instrument.

What I would suggest is that quick little bursts of practicing your scales, arpeggios, tricky phrases, or even full songs at a medium volume in a comfortable range on your instrument can be very beneficial.

Microburst practicing can be fun and beneficial, but there are no shortcuts. 

Please don’t share this with your teacher as a means of self defense for only doing ten total minutes of practice this week! As with all forms of exercise, doing just one thing isn’t enough. You need a well rounded approach.

You will still need longer, sustained periods of practicing and studying to learn the art of music. Research shows that mixing in sustained aerobic training (like a long run) with your high intensity workouts provides more benefits for the brain than interval training alone. The same idea goes for practicing music. If it is applied carefully microburst practicing could be a new tool in your weekly practice routine.

In keeping with the notion of less is more, here are some tips, suggestions, and ideas for microburst practicing. They are short (naturally) and hopefully you will find them useful.  

1. Is your instrument always ready to be played?

  • Can you leave it set up in a safe place in your home where children, pets, siblings won’t knock it down? Do you own a stand for your instrument?
  • Will leaving it set up cause wear and tear? If so, do you have an older/backup instrument to use? 
  • Are you a singer? Ask your teacher for suggestions about hydration, posture, and possible exercises that can be added without a long warmup.
  • If you have an electronic instrument is it convenient to switch it on/off? Do you need headphones? An amp?
  • Do you have all of you necessary supplies stocked up? Strings? Sticks? Reeds?
  • Can you leave your instrument somewhere in your path around the house where you will be able to play it at any moment?
  • Can you leave a metronome and/or tuner close by?

2. When can you play your instrument?

  • Do you have volume restrictions where you practice?
  • How softly can you practice without completely sacrificing the sound of your instrument?
  • Do you have physical restrictions to consider?
  • Are there times of the day or night that are easier for you?
  • You only have to play for a few minutes, can you sneak that in without pushing the restrictions you may have?

3. What can I practice in a short amount of time? What types of things would be the most beneficial?

  • Scales, scales, scales! Pick one scale or maybe a certain type of scale (minor, pentatonic, chromatic, etc.) and every time you walk by your instrument play the scale five times. Singers can do this, too - stay in the middle of your voice range so you don’t strain.
  • Chords, chords, chords! And let me add arpeggios, arpeggios, arpeggios! Use the same approach as you would with scales.
  • Can you use a metronome during these microbursts? It really can make a huge difference in your results. Leave one where you will practice or install an app on your digital device.
  • Tone and intonation exercises are great, too. Can you just grab your instrument and nail your tuning note perfectly every time?
  • Are there problem notes that you are trying to fix? Faulty intonation? Not the most consistent tone? Pick those notes for a quick microburst.
  • If you do tone and intonation exercises can you have a tuner ready to use?
  • Smartphones and other digital devices can be excellent tools in the practice room but they can sabotage your time as well, even if it is a microburst. Switch off the world for five minutes and play some music - put it in airplane mode before you start to practice.

4. Don’t forget the fun!

  • Don’t make these into microbursts of stress and obligation. Play a funny song for one microburst. Play just your mouthpiece. Play your guitar upside down. Work on funny sound effects.
  • Improvise instead of playing something written.
  • Have a song book on your music stand and flip to a random song - play it for five minutes.
  • Put on some music and try to play along. You don’t have to know a single note of the song, just find a note that fits in. Hold out that one note or two while the song is on and maybe next time you will figure out more.
  • Play along with the TV! It worked for LA composer Jon Brion. When he was young, he would figure out to play along with the music for the commercials and jingles. 
  • Take a random tune request from a family member and try to figure it out.

Do you have more ideas? A different opinion? Feel free to respond below! 


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