‘RPM’ Practice

Apparently, there’s a thing called RPM practice, and (I guess) musicians consider it to be the best way to practice their respective instruments.

RPM stands for Regular, Purposed, and Measurable.

As musicians, our practice needs to be ALL of these things. (I speak from personal experience here.)

When practicing, make sure that your practice sessions are the following:

  • REGULAR
    • In short, have a scheduled day and/or time to practice. For most musicians, practice is mandatory almost everyday. Practice is not an option! Every musician needs to practice to hone his skills and become better each day. In this category, I lack diligence and discipline (which is a serious problem). Having an irregular, practice schedule is seriously hindering me in private lessons with my instructor and in performance within an ensemble. If you’re facing the same scenario, here’s a tip: Maintain a regular, daily practice schedule! If you only practice 10min/day, you’re already on the right track to being more productive as a musician than someone who only practices 10min/week.
    • Honestly, I’m really disappointed in myself for not staying diligent and disciplined enough to maintain a regular schedule. An excellent practice routine plus a horrible practice schedule yields mediocrity and poor performance! That said, I need to make a change!
  • PURPOSED
    • Have a goal in mind that you want to accomplish when practicing; otherwise, you’re entering the practice room and just going through the motions. Without a goal in mind, you have no idea what you need to practice to become better or to make the music sound better. My instructor always stresses that, in practice, you need to work on what sucks! Don’t keep practicing the parts that you already play well. Practice the parts you play poorly. I know this sounds really simple, but in execution, this is hard. As musicians, why we would practice a section of our music that we know will sound bad? It makes us look/sound bad! We strive to look/sound professional and extremely talented. There’s a tacet understanding that if you always practice what you play well and not what you play poorly, then you’ll always play the music poorly. Once again, go into the practice room with a goal and practice what you play poorly until you can play it well.
    • In my own experience, I have a goal to accomplish while practicing. Once I accomplish my goal, I add it to everything else that I’ve improved; therefore, the music sounds consistent. In performance, the audience cannot tell which parts I know well and which parts I don’t know well; however, they know when I’m nervous.
  • MEASURABLE
    • Your practice (or really your improvement) should be measurable. How do you know if/that you’ve made progress if you can’t measure your current state to your past state. Here’s an anecdote: As a freshman in college, I completely sucked at playing snare drum – rudiments, basic exercises,  and etudes. Now, as a junior, I still suck at playing snare drum, but I’m much better than two years ago. (I can play a handful of rudiments, most basic exercises, and I have played several etudes.) The only reason I know that is because my improvement is measurable. Your improvement from practice has to be measurable. If you get a piece of music and you still find it difficult after practicing it for three months, then you’re wasting your time in your practice sessions OR the music you have is too difficult to play and you are wasting your time practicing it until you’ve built up your fundamentals and techniques to where you can play music of that calibre; thus, I’m not learning Serry’s Rhapsody for Marimba or Thomas’ Merlin anytime soon.
    • In my own experience, my practice and improvement that follows is definitely measurable. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve seen my performance juries’ grades increase, my private lessons’ grades increase, and my overall performance ability increase year after year. I’ve definitely made progress as a percussionist while studying music in college, but I’ve still got miles to go before I sleep. (Did you like that reference?)

A UAB grad student – now an alumnus – introduced this concept of RPM practice. When any musician thinks about it, it’s quite profound and very practical to employ during a practice session. What sparked me to write this post was my poor performance in private lessons today. I’m supposed to have made more progress than the progress I actually did make between last week and today; because I didn’t have RPM practice, I fell short of my instructor’s  and my own expectations. Although my instructor was not disappointed or angry with me, I was disappointed with myself for not having RPM practice between last week and today. I definitely learned a lesson the hard way today: through experience of a lackluster private lesson. I cannot let that happen again.