Students always are asking about how they can practice effectively. It is not all about the duration or the frequency of practice: it's also about the quality and effectiveness of practice.
TED-Ed has a great short video on how to practice effectively. After the video, come back to read about how to apply this specifically to your music practice.
Strategies for your music practice
1. Minimize Distractions
Distractions get in the way of self-improvement. Distractions interrupt your learning. Distractions make it an even harder battle to increase the amount of myelin around the axons. Axons are nerves that carry information from the brain to the muscles, and myelin is like insulation for the axons.
2. Break it Down
Breaking down a song into chunks (anywhere from a few notes to a few measures) and practicing those chunks repetitively back-to-back can encourage myelin growth.
3. Start note by note
Take that chunk, and go note by note or word by word out of rhythm. Then put it into rhythm very slowly.
3. Slow Down First, Speed It Up Later
Many students, including myself, love to learn and experience life at full speed- or faster. However, practicing music is best done at first slowly in most situations, and then pick up faster as you go. I like to start slow and pretend that the chunk I am practicing is on loop. I directly repeat the chunk, or wait a measure and repeat it a few times in a row. Then I take a break. Then I speed it up a few clicks. A metronome is a great tool to use during this exercise.
4. Envision your success
Envision yourself accomplishing the task at hand before practicing a section. It's amazing what can be done by putting your focus on one consistent activity. This "mind practice" can be just as effective as practice, and helps mentally prepare you for the real thing.
5. Target your weaknesses
Consistent and intensely focused practice that targets your weaknesses or sections of music that are at end of ones abilities is incredibly important. If you have studied music for a while, you already know quite a bit. Putting your energy always into what is easy for you will only help you in the tasks that are already easy. However, if you practice often what is hard it will get easier as you go.
6. Take a break
When you are doing all of this chunking, looping, and practicing your weaknesses it is a lot of work. When you work, please take a break every now and then. After you intensely focus for a few minutes, feel free to take a bit of time where you allow what you've learned to settle in and also to give yourself a break from the intense focus. With everything in life and in music there is a balance. Make sure after intense moments of practice to take some time to either reflect or to just take a break. Your mind will thank you for it.