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How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Now that you’ve established your desire to learn how to play a musical instrument, the next step is to fully commit to it. Any successful musician will tell you that in order to excel in your instrument you should continually practice. Here are some tips to keep in mind before, during and after every practice session.

Aim to Practice Everyday

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Even the best musicians strive to practice their instrument daily. Make practice a part of your daily routine. Determine when is the best time for you to practice. If you like practicing in the morning, get up at least an hour early so that you won’t be late for work. If you’re an evening person, do your practice before going to bed or before you become sleepy. If you skip a practice day, don’t worry, but do try to make up for the missed practice session by extending your practice time for at least 5 minutes for your next session.

Never Forget Your Finger Exercises and Warm-Ups

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Finger exercises and other form of warm-ups are crucial if you want to be a good player. Not only will it make your hands and fingers more flexible, it will also reduce the danger of injuries. Every instrument player must do warm-ups first before playing or performing. You won’t run a marathon without stretching first, right? The same principle applies to playing an instrument.

Practice for at Least 20 Minutes Daily

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Why 20 minutes? I find that this is a manageable time for beginners, it’s not too short that you get nothing done and not too long that you end up feeling bored. When I say 20 minutes it refers to the lesson proper itself. Devote 5 minutes for warm-ups and 5 minutes for cool downs, just like a regular exercise. That means you must set aside at least 30 minutes a day for practice sessions. That’s not too long, right? You can spend longer than that falling in line at a check-out counter. As your interest grows you’ll find that your daily practice time will also extend.

Listen to Your Body

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Sometimes musicians forget the importance of being fit not only in mind but also in body. If you’re straining to read the music sheet in front of you, do have your eyes checked. If you’re having trouble deciphering tones coming from your instrument, consider having an ear exam. If your back hurts every time you sit down to practice, determine if this has something to do with posture. Listen to your body; if it feels something is not quite right, schedule a check-up as soon as possible.

Make Your Practice Area Comfortable

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Is your seat comfortable? Is the room well ventilated? Is there proper lighting? Make sure that your practice area is comfortable and free from distractions so you can concentrate. Also, consider adjusting your practice schedule depending on the time of year. For example, during summer when the temperature is hotter, you can schedule your practice in the mornings when it’s cooler. During winter and if possible, set your practice time in the afternoons when it’s warmer.

Remember, It’s Not a Race

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Keep in mind that each person learns at varying speeds, some are quick learners while others take time to progress. Don’t be ashamed if you feel you’re progressing slower than your classmates. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Keep that in mind when you’re having self-doubts. The best musicians reached their level of success through determination and patience. It is not about how quickly you learned to play a music piece; it is about playing from your heart.

Be open to your teacher

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If you’re taking individual or group lessons make sure that you communicate with your teacher. Consult your teacher if there’s an area you’re struggling with or if there’s something you don’t fully comprehend. Your teacher is your ally, she is there to help you. Be open and don’t feel embarrassed to approach your music teacher if you’re having difficulty about a certain lesson or music piece.

Take Care of Your Instrument

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Your musical instrument will serve as your friend and partner as you continue your studies. It isn’t enough that you’re a good player, you must also have an instrument that is of good quality and in top condition. Take care of your instrument; if you feel it’s starting to have problems, don’t wait and have it checked immediately.

Reward Yourself

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

If you’ve just learned a piece you’ve previously had trouble with, by all means, reward yourself. You don’t have to splurge, just doing something you particularly enjoy is a reward in itself. Grab a latte at your favorite coffee place, rent a movie, get a pedicure, etc. Rewarding yourself will give you a moral boost and further inspire you to learn.

It’s Okay to Have Fun

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We all want to be good at something but for me loving what you do is more important. Never forget that despite all the hardwork you will and are facing, playing a musical instrument is enjoyable. As you improve, your love and enjoyment of music will also grow. You are embarking on a wondrous journey, have fun!

Get Your Equipment Ready

Before each practice session, make sure all the materials you will need are prepared and within easy reach. Aside from your musical instrument of course, here are other things you can use during your practice sessions

  • metronome
  • tuner
  • method books/sheet music
  • music stand
  • instrument stand
  • CD player to play along with

I recently sent my flute to the shop for a COA, and in the midst of preparing for upcoming events, I began thinking of all the ways I can continue to improve while it’s away.

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Perhaps your living situation limits you to quiet hours, or you’ve slammed your finger in a door and cannot hold your instrument for a month. (I can speak from experience.)

Instead of considering the limitations of being unable to play your instrument, consider the ways it can be beneficial:

  • You won’t feel distracted or discouraged by a “bad tone day.”
  • You’ll be able to focus purely on the composition and musicality.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to practice being mindful, present, and focused.
  • You won’t feel the temptation to mindlessly repeat passages and risk learning mistakes.

Here are 8 ways to practice effectively without your instrument:

Spend time researching your repertoire. Dig deeper into the life of the composer, important influences, the history of the instrument at the time of the composition, and so on. This is a crucial step is that is often cut short when tempted to get started learning the notes. There are boatloads of articles and resources available online. Even in five minutes of searching, you can learn something new! A heightened awareness of the background and context of a piece allows for an informed interpretation.

If you’re anticipating being without your instrument and can pre-record at least one performance of your piece, use your video as a tool for self-study. Watch yourself practice and take notes. Be your own teacher. This will be immensely useful in Step 3!

Find as many recordings of your repertoire as possible, in addition to related works. Listen first as a whole, then on a granular level.

Go phrase by phrase listening to all of your recordings back-to-back, taking specific notes. Oftentimes, we limit ourselves to only a few possibilities when playing. Hearing many possibilities from others opens your ears to fresh perspectives, and gives you the chance to determine which is the most effective.

Once you’ve determined the way you’d like a certain phrase to be played, listen to your own recording if you pre-recorded yourself. Are you already playing it exactly as you want? Great! Now you’ve confirmed that you should keep playing it that way! Are there areas to improve? Great! Now you have a detailed plan.

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Make a copy of your music for personal note-taking. Write notes on your own playing while you listen to your own recordings, and add notes and ideas from your favorite recordings.

Most importantly, add reminders throughout: Anticipate where you’ll need to remember to “stand tall and sing” or “remain soft,” for example.

Use color to enhance the visual road map of your piece, and gain a visual of the bigger picture. You can also add color to imagine the tone color you wish to use in each phrase.

Do you notice when you first play your instrument in the morning, the muscles tend to tight when taking a full breath? After warming up, however, the muscles become more mobile and breathing feels more free. Without your instrument, you have the opportunity to shift awareness to the full-body experience of warming up, rather than simply listening to your sound. Try stretching and movement exercises, notice patterns of tension in movement, and uncover an effective full-body warm-up to use before playing your instrument.

Take the last step further by laying on the floor and observing the experience of breathing as a whole. Notice patterns of tension in the abdomen, the neck, the arms, the legs, and replace holding with subtle movement. Feel the movement of a full, efficient breath, and maintain effortless expansion while exhaling. Breath is the foundation of sound, so this is essentially tone practice without your instrument!

Sing your part! Oftentimes, singing a note with a feeling of space in the mouth just before playing it on your instrument translates a beautiful, natural singing quality. Attempt to sing your parts with ease and beauty, and imagine how this feeling relates to your instrument. You can also practice hearing and singing intervals in tune!

Actually practicing through imagination only. In addition to mental practice with the goal of learning notes and patterns, try a mental performance as well. Practice increasing your heart rate through jumping jacks or jogging in place, then come to a focused, grounded, and accepting state.

The benefit of practicing mentally is that you can imagine yourself playing your best. Imagine physical ease, clear musicality, a luminous sound, and captivating presence. You can even attempt to memorize the notes and rhythms through mental visualization.

How do you find ways to improve without your instrument? Let me know in the comment section below!

Practice is an important factor in mastering any skill. You want the hours you put in to be as effective as possible so you can improve steadily. Here are four keys to making sure your practice is effective.

Learning a new skill, like playing an instrument or programming, isn’t easy. Here’s how to set yourself up for success in your quest to get better.

  • Minimize distractions: It’s no surprise that your phone and computer can be big distractions if you leave them within arm’s reach during practice sessions. Put them where you can’t see or hear any notifications so you won’t be tempted to stop practicing to reply to a message “real quick” and end up going down a distraction rabbit hole.
  • Focus on quality: Start slow if you’re new to what you’re practicing so you can make sure you’re doing quality work, like landing one dance move well before moving onto the rest of the routine. Once you feel comfortable, increase your speed but don’t lose sight of the quality of your practice.
  • Divide your practice into sessions: Give yourself breaks in between practice sessions. Even professional athletes and performers take time between sessions to recharge so they can maintain the right quality level during practice.
  • Use your imagination: Run through your dance moves, speech, or piece of music in your imagination when you’re not physically practicing. This can actually help you improve since many skills have a heavy mental component.

Even if you really love something, there are moments during practice that are frustrating. Keep the above tips in mind to stay focused and on the path to improvement.

A guide for parents and for adult learners on how to practice an instrument effectively.

What You Will Learn

Make your practice time more efficient and your progress faster with the Effective Practice course.

If you’re learning an instrument then you’ll already know just how much work it takes, but how do you make sure you’re using your practice time most effectively? If you’re a parent whose child is learning to play an instrument then you want to tool up and work out how best to assist your child in their learning. Adult learners who are wanting to learn a bit more independently need to know how to go about practice and improve what you’re doing. This course will show you how best to go about practice and exactly what you should be doing. During the Effective Practice course we’ll cover.

  • Practice Time – How long should you spend practising? How often should you practice? How should you break up your practice time?
  • Effective Practice – What should you be practising? How can you make your practice time super efficient? What is the most effective practice method?
  • Making Music – How do you make a beautiful sound? Do you understand phrasing, tempo, dynamics? How do you read pitch, rhythm and deal with pulse?
  • Working with a Score – What are the potential difficulties to spot within a piece? How would you give an effective performance of a piece? Can you analyse and understand what’s going on with the music?
  • Areas of Focus – Why do you need to learn music theory? How do you develop your aural skills? What technical exercises should you be practising?

Thanks a ton! This is really very helpful. I love the way you explain with several examples!

Who Is This Course For?

Parents and adult learners.

Lots of people out there have got children who are learning to play an instrument or who are learning to sing. They would love to help by supervising the practice, giving their child encouragement, but are not sure how best to do that. If you’re an adult learner and you’re just a little bit worried about what to do and what not to do with practice then this is going assist you in more independent learning. The effective practice course is designed for both these reasons. Learning how to practice effectively is an absolute must for those who want to make the fastest progress.

Do any of these sound familiar?

“I don’t know what to practice. ” “I don’t know how best to practice this. ” “I’m a parent, I wish I could help my kids to practise more effectively…” “I’m an adult learner, I can play the notes but I’m not sure what do I need to do next. ” “I struggle to look at a piece and learn it on my own…”

At last. You are the best teacher I have experienced. I had a great deal of difficulties, understanding, but your way of teaching is like guiding me to walk step by step without stumbling on my face. Your way showed me that I can and am able to understand music, in spite of my fear. Thank you very much for your attribution, to those frightened students. Bless you.

– Neomi

By the end of this Effective Practice course you’ll be able to…

Learn pieces quicker and more accurately

Practice more efficiently and effectively

Provide helpful guidance and support to your child learning music

Understand the elements of music on a score with clarity

Learn new pieces more independently

Play more confidently knowing what you are doing is right

I’m so pleased to find these videos – thank you so much. I’ve played the piano for 25 years and never took lessons. I was always aware that there was a huge hole in my knowledge which was preventing me from taking steps into other pieces, and this course was a literal revelation to me. Thank you, deeply.

Course Information

What’s Included with the Effective Practice Course?

Professional Teaching

You’ll receive expert guidance on what you need to pay attention to within a piece in order to make practice work best.

Practical Exercises

Each video teaches you the method for effective practice and then follows it by relating it to an example piece.

Ask Questions

Below each video you are able to post comments and ask questions should you have any in regards to the course topics covered.

Easy to Follow Structure

The course is divided into multiple stages, breaking down each part separately before putting in all together.

Complete at Your Own Pace

You can easily fit the course around your regular commitments, completing it at your own pace and in your own time.

Anywhere Access

Your course never expires. Learn when and where you choose! Computer or mobile. Just get comfortable and dive in!

Your Instructor

Hi, I’m Gareth and I’m passionate about developing ‘the all round musician’.

Nearly 35 years of music examining with ABRSM, work with the BBC on Radio and TV, experience on the international concert platform, as a published composer and arranger, have brought rich resources to the 40 years of teaching in which I’ve engaged.

Scholarships at The Royal College of Music, Oxford University and St. Paul’s Cathedral gave me fantastic opportunities to learn from the best musicians, scholars and teachers. Working as Director of Music at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School then provided a wonderful opportunity to develop my teaching skills.

Teaching individuals and groups of all ages, and at all stages of development have refined a teaching approach that I hope is fun and engaging, and focused on explaining things clearly and logically. And that is what these courses are all about – understanding the basic principles with clarity, then going deeper, applying them to your musical life and liberating yourself as a musician.

It’s a rich and amazing journey, and I can’t wait for you to join me today!

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

The only way to learn how to play an instrument is to practice. And although it’s always great when you can afford to practice for hours, some people simply don’t have that much time to spare on a daily basis. If you want to improve your skills but often don’t have a lot of time, then you can follow these tips to practice more effectively.

Use a Practice Notebook

It’s completely normal to have some fun and play whatever comes to mind from time to time, but if you’re looking to improve your skills effectively, you will need to use a practice notebook. Keep in mind that your every practice session should be carefully planned . It’s also important that you clearly define what your goals are before you start practicing.

The goals that you come up with before each practice session should be broken down into small objectives. Whenever you manage to reach a certain goal, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to keep practicing. When you manage to correct an error or do something that you like, make sure to write it down in your notebook.

Organize a Jam Session

It’s a good idea to organize a jam session with your friends every once in a while. By playing with other people, you will be able to work on your improvisational skills as well as timing. On top of that, you’ll learn a few tricks from your friends, which will surely help you become better at playing.

Know Your Equipment

No matter what instrument you’re playing, it’s crucial that you have a deep understanding of the equipment. If you don’t know exactly what type of sounds your instrument is able to produce, then you won’t be able to be a good musician. For example, if you have a guitar and want to learn how to play it, you should know how important it is to have a good guitar tuner.

This piece of equipment will help you hit the right notes no matter where you’re playing. Therefore, you should make sure to research the best guitar tuners and get one that is both reliable and affordable. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t exactly spend too much money on equipment if you just got the instrument. In most cases, you’ll be able to get nearly the same results by using an affordable piece of equipment.

Practice Smarter, Not Harder

Whenever you make a mistake during practice or do something that creates an undesirable result, you should stop for a moment and try to define the problem. Think about the result you got and what you wanted to get. Remember that there’s always a better way to practice , so now that you’ve managed to identify the problem, it’s time to approach it with a few different strategies.

Don’t Start from the Beginning Every Time

It’s important that you use your time effectively, so you shouldn’t really start from the beginning every time that you make an error. Know that you’ll be tempted to playing the beginning since that’s the part you know best and you want to hear yourself play beautifully. However, doing this will only lead to you wasting time and not practicing the whole piece properly.

Pick the Right Time to Practice

If you don’t really feel like practicing then you shouldn’t, even if you have a lot of time on your hands. Practice only when you feel like you have a lot of energy and are able to think clearly and focus. It’s a good idea to keep track of the different parts of the day when you have the most energy. For some people, this is in the early morning, but for others it may be later on during the day.

Visualize

It’s good to sometimes practice even when you don’t have your instrument. The next time you find yourself on a train or bus, you should think about the pieces you’ll be playing later. This will help you be prepared for when you actually do sit down and grab your instrument.

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

As musicians we are always told that ‘music practice is the key to success on any instrument’. but nobody ever tells us how to practice. We are told that ‘Practice makes perfect’. but nobody ever tells us how! In fact, practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect! This site is about how to improve your practice techniques.

In 15 years of teaching music I have noticed it is the students who know how to practice effectively that make the most progress. and they are not necessarily the students who practice for the longest. They are the students who have an effective music practice technique. This site gives you the essential music practice techniques you need to progress more effectively and efficiently. It teaches you how to practice music, guiding you towards making faster progress in less time whether you are doing piano practice, violin, clarinet, flute, guitar. or any other musical instrument practice. The advice and techniques on this site apply to all instruments. By reading through and applying the advice you will have more efficient and effective practice

Why do some people seem to do less music practice than you?

If you ever wondered how some people seem to learn pieces and scales quicker than you, how they improvise and sight read effortlessly and still seem to do less work than you the answer is they know how to practice music

Many people talk about ‘talented’ musicians. but it is tenacity not talentthat wins the day. Browse the site now to find new and exciting techniques and tips on practicing music to help you start making more progress in less time!

“If I don’t practice the way I should,
then I won’t play the way I know I can”

Ivan Lendl – champion tennis player

The information on this website guides you towards achieving your musical goals efficiently, whether they are fame and fortune in the Classical or Pop world, becoming the next great film composer or being able to play for a local church or community group. This site helps you refine your goals and carry them through. You will find downloadable sheets and information on general music practice techniques as well as advice for practicing specific instruments.

Enjoy what you have read so far? Then subscribe to the Perfect Practice newsletter. This is a once a month newsletter with updates on what is new and popular on the site, additional articles on how to practice music more effectively and reviews of any equipment or software that may help you achieve your musical goals.

I guarantee I will not sell your email on or spam you. I personally hate it when I sign up for a newsletter and end up with a pushy email a day or suddenly find myself on lots of email lists so I will not inflict that upon you!

Taking my own advice

Recently I actually had to take much of the practice advice on the site and practice what I preach as I started learning the bass guitar! I was surprised at how much my practise technique differed from my time as a young learner and I do wish I had known some of these techniques then. I’m sure it would have help avoid quite a few arguments with my parents.

I am also taking a course in Cinematic Orchestration with Hollywood composer and orchestrator, Charles Fernandez, and as I worked through the examples it struck me that I have always said that composition improves with practice, but now I am actually seeing (and hearing) the proof!

And in amongst all this talk of technique please remember the most important thing when we play is to enjoy playing. If we aren’t enjoying playing, how can we expect others to enjoy listening to us?

Enjoy browsing the site and good luck with your practice and your playing. If there is anything practice related you think I could help you with please use the Contact form and let me know. I’ll do my best to help!

Simon Horsey

I am currently working on a complete revamp of the site and some new material plus I am getting back to sending out the Perfect Practice newsletter again with helpful practice hints so if you aren’t already subscribed sign up now.

Expert Practice Secrets

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Frustrated with your practice? Read Practice Makes Perfect and hack the 10,000 hour rule. Cut your practice time by up to 25%! Make faster progress, learn pieces and scales faster, memorize more easily, and much more. “If you play an instrument you need this book!”

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How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

If your New Year’s resolution is to learn a musical instrument, then you shouldn’t go into the venture half-hearted. You should give it your all, and you should seek to be effective with everything that you do. Only then will you give yourself the best chance possible of sticking with your challenge and achieving your goal.

If you incorporate the three effective tips found below into your practicing regime, you’ll be sure to become a maestro in no time.

Get everything set up the way you like it

You’re the one learning to play a musical instrument, which means you have to do all you can to make the experience as easy as it can possibly be for yourself. Getting everything set up exactly the way you like it then, is pivotal.

If you learn best in a quiet area, then find yourself a secluded room in which you can practice. On the other hand, if you prefer more stimulation, join other learners in a communal area. By choosing a place that promotes your learning, and, more importantly, by being consistent with the way you learn, you’ll enter yourself into the right frame of mind every time you sit down to practice your chosen instrument. Whether you’re planning to get a Digital Piano or Guitar. Don’t spend a lot on your first musical instrument. Try to get a beginner’s musical instrument like Yamaha P71 or P45, sites like Piano Nadu will help you to pick the suitable digital piano

Don’t forget to warm up

This doesn’t mean making sure that the area in which you practice is warm (although, practicing in the right temperature will always be advantageous), this means warming up before you begin playing just like a sportsperson would before physical activity. By easing into each practice session before you really get going with it, you’ll prepare your mind for the hours of deep concentration that are set to follow. You’ll stop yourself from suffering from burnout and fatigue halfway through the session, too.

Scribble on your scores

As you get deeper into your quest to learn a musical instrument, things will change. The way you interpret the music that you listen to and seek to learn will change, and as it does, you should change with it. You should embrace the fact that you are evolving as an instrument learner by scribbling on your musical scores. When it comes to doing this, you should highlight certain notes and dynamics, change various timings, and alter scores based on your new interpretations.

Because you’ll be doing a lot of chopping and changing, it is a good idea to print off multiple copies of your practice sheets. Doing so will mean nothing will be lost, and irreversible damage will never occur. To ensure you are capable of printing off various sheets of musical scores, you should seek to pack your printer with quality compatible ink cartridges — you can find such quality at Cartridge People. Make sure you have something to hold your sheets of paper, too, as losing a crucial component of a song could be enough to put you off learning your instrument altogether.

If you want to become a musical genius in 2019, then make sure to put the three pieces of advice found above into practice. If you do, who knows how good you might be by this time next year!

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

There’s a famous quote that we all know, “Practice makes perfect”. We all know that when you want to improve on something, you got to practice BUT in this present day and age, children are always packed with various activities. School, CCA, tuitions, swim class, art class, dance class (just to name a few).
So packed, it’s common for them to be physically and mentally drained and practicing their instrument would be the last thing on their minds…

But remember, as that oh-so-famous quote goes: “Practice makes perfect”.

We got to “practice” our instruments in order to progress. In 12 TONE, we don’t call ‘Practice’, we call it ‘Play your instrument’. Parents and older students always ask me this questions. “How long should my child/I practice the piano?” “What’s the ideal duration to practice?” “How many days should my child/I practice?” and many more… Of course the most ideal answer to all these questions are, everyday for 45mins (Wow! That’s a long time! I don’t have the time for that!). If you can do that, that would be amazing, but if you can’t, don’t worry! Here are 5 Easy and Effective ways to play your instrument under 30mins!

1. Find your best time of the day to play your instrument

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively Timing is everything!

Everybody’s schedule are different. Some of us work best in the morning, some of us work best in the afternoon, some of us work best at night. Find your best time of the day to play your instrument, schedule it down and add in to your daily routine. (Mine is after breakfast!)

2. Plan and set a goal for the day

How to Practice an Instrument EffectivelyHaving a plan is always a start to a great plan!

This will help you focus. Example: Today I’m going to work on my rhythm and I will perfect the rhythm from Bar 1 to 8 for this song!
(I love planning! Every morning I will plan my day before breakfast!)

3. Take note and point out the areas or parts that you are having problems with.

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively Keep at it!

Play the song once through and mark down the areas or parts that you are having problems with.
(I love using colored pen and highlighter to circle the areas that I need to work on!)

4. Work on the areas they you have take note of

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively Hone in on your target!

Repetition is the key here. Repeat the area at least 3 times or until you are feeling confident. The more times you repeat, the more confidence you get.
Once you are confident with the area that you have been working on, play the song from the beginning until the area that you have been working on.

5. Play your instrument at least 3 days per week.

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively 3’s the magic number!

The more you’re familiar with something, the easier it gets! No one runs a marathon after 1 session of training.

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Welcome to episode 126 of the LJS Podcast where today we are doing a coaching call with current 30 Steps to Better Jazz Playing student, Joyce Kettering. Joyce has an inspiring reason why she started learning jazz. We spend some time talking about that, and how she can effectively practice even when she doesn’t have access to her instrument. Listen in!

Listen to episode 126

Joyce has a really inspiring reason why she started studying jazz and ultimately decided to take my course. She listens to jazz and plays it on her piano during times where she feels down. She treats it as a means of therapy, and her goal is to improve upon that.

During our coaching call, she asked how she can practice even when she doesn’t have access to her piano, which she only has when she goes and visits her parents.

This isn’t just her problem. Many of us may have access to our instruments, but we don’t always have the time to actually spend time with them. So how can we practice effectively and improve, even away from our instrument?

That’s something we go over in this episode. Here is the basic outline of what we talk about:

Joyce’s “musicpreneur” job and how she got into it.

Joyce’s jazz goals and why she ultimately took my course.

Ways she can practice effectively away from her instrument.

I was really inspired to talk to Joyce, not only because it’s always fun for me to talk to my course students, but because she’s an excellent example of how life-changing music can be.

Your challenge for this episode is to think about what relationship you have with your instrument, and what you want it to be. Also, think of how you can apply some of the things talked about when it comes to practicing without an instrument.

Important Links

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

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3 COMMENTS

Hi Brent….All true. I am curious to know what classically trained players are feeling and thinking about the dilemma they face when they want to improvise. The thought process, their demons and fears interest me because they are the complete opposite of mine! It seems to me, with their skills, they would break out far quicker into the improv world than people like me coming from the opposite side of the pendulum having to fix the damage done by learning without good instruction. It’s just a curious thing to me.

I’m amazed when I hear classically trained musicians that find improv to be so challenging. I’m not saying it’s not a challenge to everyone. It seems to come naturally to people that started playing by doing just that, playing. For me, the challenge is to play the head. The thought that every note has to be spot on causes a not so helpful physiological response whereas, improvising over the same progression allows so many different roads to travel, it’s hard to screw up! I can even pull over to the side for a moment to think where I want to go next and that in itself becomes part of the improvisational road trip for the moment. Memorizing the head and hopefully being able to recall it days later and maybe having to resort to looking at the page is like work to me!

Hey Joel! Everyone comes from different musical paths. Reading is hard for some while improv easier, or vice-versa. Keep in mind, when it comes to jazz, many of the great musicians were quite expressive with the melody as well. Not to say they didn’t know the original, note-for-note melody, but they also took liberties.

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Piano Knowledge, 03.09.2018

Practising often becomes a kind of competition, and stories are told of great musicians who have practiced an incredible number of hours a day. Don’t let that frustrate you. You have to be realistic about how much time you can spend each day on practicing and then try to use this time as productively as possible.

We have 10 tips for you on how to learn your instrument even more efficiently.

1) How long should I practice at a time?

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

It is known that our brain can only really concentrate for about 20-30 minutes. Then you should take a break. As a rule of thumb, you should practice 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break.

Fresh air and silence are important for the breaks, because the brain has yet to process what it just learned. So don’t turn on your TV right after practicing. And if you have even less time, it doesn’t matter as long as you are focused, because regular, focused practice is basically more valuable than one hour-long session per week.

Practice 15 minutes every day rather than 5 hours once a week.

2) Good sleep is essential if you are not to forget what you have learned

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Studies have shown that it is only sleep that decides whether what has been learnt is really fixed in memory or not. Especially important for learning theoretical things (music theory, chord sequences) are the deep sleep phases, which occur during the first few hours of our sleep.

However, it is different when we train our muscle memory (e.g. finger exercises, pieces in general). The sleep phases in which we dream (REM sleep for Rapid Eye Movement) are particularly important here. This sleep phase occurs more frequently in the early morning hours than in the evening immediately after falling asleep.

3) Include regular practice as a habit in your daily routine

Besides all the things buzzing around in your head during your everyday life, it might be hard to find time to sit down at the piano. And how can you concentrate when you’ve just come home from work or school?

You know your own daily routine best. Maybe you can find a gap that’s free every day? This will mean you can practice regularly and play the piano more as a time-out and not as “strenuous practice”. Or, you could consciously try to relax a little before the practice time, so that you don’t think about other things all the time while practicing, for example by taking a nap just before. You should note that the midday nap should not last longer than half an hour otherwise you fall into deep sleep and are not fit enough after waking up.

In the beginning, it all requires discipline, of course, but after a while the practice time becomes a habit and doesn’t seem strenuous or long anymore. However, it is not possible to say how long this will take. Anything between 18 and 254 days is possible, depending on your process.

4) Select simple pieces of music for beginners to learn

Don’t be too demanding. In order not to lose the motivation to play, you should choose simple pieces of music written for beginners.

These songs should not feature any fast runs. Only choose songs you can listen to and watch beforehand.

In addition, the pieces should only use triad chords.

5) Practice new pieces slowly to avoid mistakes

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

You play fast, you make mistakes fast. If you play slowly, you can concentrate better.

Eliminating rehearsed mistakes is extremely strenuous and laborious. So teach yourself the correct sequence right from the start.

6) Take notes

Write down what you’re not so good at. And write down what you’re already very good at. Write down what you want to learn.

If you want to be really efficient, create an exercise plan.

7) Warming up hands and brain

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

You don’t do any sports without being warmed up, do you? It wouldn’t be good idea, anyway!

The same applies to learning and practicing with the instrument. Warm up your hands and brain. Don’t set your goals too high.

To warm up, you should choose the same song for each exercise.

8) Set realistic goals

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

For each time you practice, set yourself a goal that you can achieve in this lesson. This can be, for example, to master the first 4 bars of a song perfectly.

Do not set your aims too low either – just stay realistic in your approach.

Instead, divide your big goal into small sections so every step feels like progress. Divide a song you want to learn into bars. Learn each one and then connect them all together.

9) Practice effectively to eliminate uncertainties

Practicing does not mean repeating the passages you have already mastered. Instead you should concentrate on the parts that give you trouble.

Do not skip these parts, but take time (approx. 15 minutes) per exercise unit to practice them over and over again.

You will soon notice that you are getting better and better, and before you know it you will be playing these parts fluently.

10) Feedback: Demonstrate what you have learned to friends and family

It is difficult to assess one’s own ability objectively.

Present to your friends or family the pieces that you have learned. Then insist on honest feedback.

They will be able to tell you which parts still sound shaky and where you need to improve. Maybe it will even become obvious that you can already get to grips with more difficult songs.

If you can’t find an audience for feedback, try recording yourself. It can be much easier to hear what you really sound like when you don’t have to concentrate on playing.

How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Yacine Khorchi

Yacine is one of the founders of music2me and the brain behind our piano course. After graduating from high school, he first completed a one-year intensive course of study at a private music school. This was followed by piano studies at Germany’s oldest university of music in Würzburg. He has been teaching piano to students of all ages for over 10 years and has been leading the composition course at the German Pop Academy Frankfurt since April 2013.

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How to Practice an Instrument Effectively

Years ago, in a sweaty dojo, I earned my black belt and wisdom about the art of practice from Master Dave. Master Dave wasn’t a Ph.D researcher with some degree in neuropsychology but his years of experience taught him that practicing something over and over does not make it perfect.

There’s a lot of information out there on how to master skills. Some ideas are misleading, such as the concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, in which he explains 10,000 hours is the key to mastery. Other articles give you tips on how to practice without any research to back it up.

But if you want some researched advice about how to master a skill, listen to Anders Ericsson, author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, who has researched practice and proven what I learned from Master Dave long ago: if you want to learn something, you need to practice deliberately.

The Six Keys to Deliberate Practice

In order to improve your performance–with karate, a musical instrument, or any work related task–you need to do these six things:

1. Establish well-defined and specific goals

Have a goal of what you plan to accomplish. Otherwise, how will you know if you reached it? Mastering a fluid karate move, playing a song without mistake, or anything you want to improve, as long as it is specific and something beyond your current ability.

2. Break your task down into parts and make a practice plan

While a karate punch may look like one seamless move, it has many moving parts. Break your own task down into its different areas. Then make a specific plan of when and how long you will practice on each part.

3. Give each part your full attention

Passive practice does not lead to mastery. You won’t become like Master Dave by multitasking. You need to be focused on each movement to get the most out of each specific task. Practice slowly at first, so you can master each section; then put it all together into one seamless action.

4. Get feedback from a master

No one masters a skill by themselves. I would have never become a black belt without Master Dave correcting my punches and kicks. An expert outsider can see your errors and help correct them. Practicing the wrong way will only make you master it the wrong way. To achieve perfect performance, you must first practice perfectly.

5. Stray out of your comfort zone

No one ever became a master by doing what they already knew. Go one step away from your ability–and no farther–to stretch your expertise. In karate, we start with simple moves and then work up to combinations. Learn a slightly more complicated part or move. But be careful, if you go too far and fail, you might be discouraged (and maybe hurt yourself).

6. Maintain your motivation

Motivation is mastery’s fuel. To maintain your motivation to change, according to Chip and Dan Heath of Switch, you’ll need to have three things: the emotional, logical, and logistical reasons to continue.

Logistically, maintaining motivation is simple as finding the most convenient time and place to practice. If you have too many logistical obstacles–getting up too early, driving out of your way, an uncomfortable practice area–you’ll give up. The fewer barriers you place to doing your practice, the more likely you will do it.

As for emotion and logic, you’ll have to do the hard work and figure out the reasons why you want to become a master of something. Your emotional reason may be a negative incident. For example, Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity team, which motivated him to work hard to become better. Or maybe it’s something positive, such as a teacher’s or boss’s glowing praise about your skill that drives you to work hard.

Whatever it is, you’ll need to have these answers or you’ll never devote the time to practice perfectly and master your skills.