Steve Anderson has taught me a few new ideas about practicing which are helping me out a lot.
1. Finding the ‘breaking point’ – find the tempo at which you fall apart while playing an etude. Then make an effort to push that tempo a little faster each day. (Much different than the slow way I used to always practice…)
2. Spot practicing – When playing an exercise at a tempo near your breaking point, notice all of the places where you trip up, and then spot practice each place until you can play it perfectly. It was surprising how often I would ignore my little trip-ups and never stop to correct them. I have been vigilant about documenting all of the little places that need work on a daily basis, so I can monitor my progress and watch out for places that continue to be a long term problem.
3. Penalty – When spot practicing, if the performance tempo is just to fast to work out the problem, penalize yourself be decreasing the tempo by a metronome click.
4. Once you completely figure out about five songs so that you ‘own’ them, you have done the majority of work necessary to learn most other songs.
5. (I love this one.) Give yourself about 6 months to be able to play on a gig what you practice at home. Allow yourself 2 years before you can feel perfectly comfortable with it. I love this rule, because it gives me a little hope that if I keep practicing, I can be pretty good in a couple of years. Judging by how fast the years seem to roll by these days, two years seems like nothing.