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Practice, Practice, Practice: Dana Kelley


Dana Kelley plays the viola.
Her practice advice is simply: Learn how to do it the right way.

“Practice, practice, practice,” might as well be a moniker for Carnegie Hall. Yet, we spend very little time talking about the physical and emotional undertaking during practice. We’re accustomed to musicians presenting us with their seemingly effortless performances instead of the struggles and reality of practicing. Here, we dive into the world of practice: Musicians of Ensemble ACJW talking honestly, and realistically, about their relationship to practicing.

So let’s jump into practicing. How much do you practice a day?
Generally, I like to practice about three hours a day. I think that’s a good number. It’s just around the time when I can’t focus anymore, so it works. I don’t get it in every day though, unfortunately, because of life getting in the way. But if I could, yeah, three hours.

Is there a time of day that you prefer to practice?
I’d say my peak practicing time is mid-morning, like 10 or 11 o’clock when I’m awake enough, but not tired or hungry enough to be distracted. But I think that’s my peak time to do pretty much anything, so sometimes if I really have to get something else done, I have to do it at 11 o’clock, but if I really have to practice that day, I’ll do that at 11 o’clock.

So you arrange your schedule based on when you focus best.
Yeah. Focus. If it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, that’s like prime nap time. So you know, the sun is out, it’s warm, that’s a time when you don’t really want to be working hard. If you have to, you can power through, but I think that’s when I get the most distracted. So if I can avoid practicing in the afternoon, I really do.

How much of your practice time would you say is focused and how must is wasted?
I think 80 percent of the time is really focused work. I have a problem with having technology in the room, where I need to turn off my phone but sometimes I don’t. And then, you know, text messages will come in and I’ll start looking at something and look, oh, I have to do this email, I have to do this and that, and then 20 minutes later, oh, I’m supposed to be practicing now.

But generally, I’m pretty good at staying focused. There are always periods of lax. But I’d say 80 percent is a pretty good number.

››Read the full interview here.

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