Every musician I know has a long list of ways they feel their students or themselves should spend their practice sessions. I've spent some time reflecting on what I consider to be one of the most effective ways to better musicianship and it's simple. Start listening more.
We live in a time when listening to music is easy. For very little money, you can collect recordings to create your own personal library of music. And don't forget - YouTube, Spotify, Naxos, and other online resources are available for FREE! We can listen to music in our cars, on the bus, on the walk to class and while completing homework assignments. Recordings are so accessible, why not include listening as a major part of performance practice?
I've made a point of listening to improve my own playing. Here are a couple tips:
Listen before you practice a work. This is not to influence every aspect of your interpretation but to give you a basic idea of the music you are playing. Once you have heard it put that recording away and create your own interpretation and musical experience.
Listen and sing along to a recording. Singing always makes playing an instrument easier. Even if you don't have a good voice, go for it! Belt out what you intend to play and see how it changes the musicality and makes the nuances easier.
Listen to the different works by the same composer. Listen to the same instrument combinations by different composers. If you are currently preparing a work, understanding the music and style outside of that one individual work will help you improve.
Listen to yourself. Recording a practice session and listening back will help you create a stronger idea of the music you hope to make. It will also allow you to hear things that you had no idea you were doing because you were so actively listening to something else at that split moment of playing.
Listen to something new. It can be new recordings of music you know well, completely new compositions by living composers or music that is out of your direct area. This is what excites most of us about music in the first place. Keep finding new music - that is part of the excitement.
Remember to find a musician who you want to sound like and listen to them. Set your standards high! And enjoy listening.