The seemingly impossible has happened! You look at your list of “to-do’s”, and miraculously, they’re all checked. You realize you finally have the time to practice. You sit done with your instrument, and… well… try to practice.

Question: have you ever felt stuck in your practice routine? Experienced a plateau in your learning?  Maybe felt it was hard to organize your practice in a way that improved old skills, while developing new ones?

Let me introduce you to a method I have adapted for the past two years: Mike Johnston’s four stage practice method. While Mike is a drum instructor, this method works for all musicians, and is effective for beginner to advanced players. I’ve made a few adjustments to the basic method to fit the needs of a typical worship musician, but it still maintains its essential form and function.

All you need is a clock, a metronome, note taking paper and your instrument. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Stage 1: Non-Creative

Stage one is ten minutes of working on a specific non-creative skill from your musical arsenal, with a metronome. This is a skill you can already do, but wish you could do better.

This is ten minutes hashing out a single skill you want to improve on, at a tempo* that is a little uncomfortable, and then, repeating that skill over and over until the timer is up. I guarantee by the end of ten minutes that tempo will not seem as daunting!

Some examples of non-creative skills are: drum rudiments, grooves, scales, and chord progressions, but again, it can be any singular skill you can already do, but you want to tighten up at both slower and faster tempos. Try to only focus on one skill for ten minutes. This is harder, but this is where the payoff is at!

*Note: pick a tempo in which you can play the skill, but struggle to hold a conversation while playing. Once you feel you could have a simple conversation with someone while practicing that skill, increase the tempo.

Stage 2: Creative

Stage two is ten minutes of warming up your mind creatively. Put another way, this is ten minutes of being creative around a non-changing or already established pattern.

For you drummers, maybe try soloing around a basic kick-snare pattern. The kick-snare pattern stays consistent, while you fill the open space with some creative ideas for a full ten minutes.

For everybody else, this is ten minutes to maybe sit with a familiar song and try creating new solo parts to it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! You know your scales, now let’s put them to use in a creative way!

Ten minutes: be creative!

Stage 3: Main Focus

Stage three is 20-25 minutes on your main focus. Defined another way, this is 20-25 minutes of working on something you can’t do or need to learn.

If you are on a worship team, most often this is the time for you to familiarize yourself with the new and old songs in your worship set. Utilize this time to take and make lots of notes! Then play the songs using your notes to guide you. Listen to the songs repetitively. Try watching instrumental tutorial videos on YouTube for visual help.

Prepare your heart and mind to know the music so that Sunday can be about worshipping Jesus, rather than struggling to make it through an unfamiliar song. Learn to be a worship leader in this time, rather than just a musician on the stage.

Stage 4: Musical Application

Stage four is ending with ten minutes of pure worship! Rock out to your favorite songs, and remember the King you serve, and the gift it is to play music!

That’s it! About an hour of intentional, focused practice.

It is a privilege to lead our family in Christ into worship. While no amount of practice will ever make us perfect, remember, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:23

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