Learning an instrument is an amazing life-long hobby and potential career for so many people. Music brings a wealth of positive benefits to our lives including human connection, communication, expression and positive mental well-being.
One of the biggest challenges of learning a musical instrument is balancing your weekly practice, particularly for teenagers and adult learners. Many people feel guilty because they don’t practice enough each week and are self-critical on themselves. If this sounds familiar then this might be because you have been told you need to practice every day for big chunks of time.
For some musicians this works perfectly, but in reality, for most of us we are living a fast-paced live balancing hectic schedules and squeezing in hours of practice a day is just not possible.
So rather than be incredibly harsh on ourselves and potentially quitting music, here are 15 of my top tips that will help you reframe your perception of practice and support quicker progress:
- Focus on goal-orientated practice rather than just practising for a specific amount of time. If you create a goal for each practice session you will work on fixing and improving a specific skill or section of the music that you are struggling with. You will more than likely see more efficient and effective progress taking a goal-orientated approach rather than randomly playing through your pieces.
- Ensure you do a good warm-up so that you can get your brain and body ready for practising. This is extremely important if you have had a hectic day or just got back from doing something highly physical like sports. We need our bodies to be calm and relaxed when playing or singing. Use the warm-up to reduce stress and tension in your body in much the same way as meditation does.
- Make sure you are not hungry, thirsty or tired before practising. It will make a big difference to your mood and concentration.
- Focus on a specific section of your music and ensure you can play the pitch and rhythm accurately. However, do not miss out including dynamics and phrasing. Learning a passage loudly to have to go back and re-learn it quietly later on is twice the work.
- Ensure you work up to the correct tempo slowly. You brain needs to learn the musical patterns first of the piece and apply it accurately to the instrument before you add the speed. Learn the section slowly with no errors then increase the tempo.
- Focus on technical aspects of the pieces you are playing – smooth playing where needed, good articulation, etc. This attention to detail must not be underestimated as it helps shape the story of the music that the composer was trying to create. When performing always remember you are trying to portray and perform the work as closely to the original concept the composer had when creating the work.
- Listen to the piece by other performers – on Youtube you will find many recordings of pieces so it will help you hear a variety of standards. Don’t be afraid to play along.
- Research the composer of the piece so you can understand the historical and social context of the piece.
- If you are singing a song – what is the story of the music? What emotions are the lyrics trying to portray? Who is singing the song? All of these questions are important to help you get into role of the song and creates a more authentic and emotional performance.
- Work on the hard parts – not the easy. If it’s easy – you can already play it! Working on the challenging sections is how you will make faster progress. Sometimes a challenging section might require you to work on a specific piece of instrumental technique so it is good to find a study exercise or book that will help with this particular challenge.
- Ensure that you understand all the musical terms on the music – dynamics, tempo, expression markings. Again, this will help you aim to create a more authentic performance.
- Variety – keep your weekly practice sessions varied. s
- Consistency – in the same way we need to keep our muscles fit and health by doing sports the same consistency is needed in music. Remember you are working some muscles when playing or singing and those muscles are helping control and shape the sound.
- Record yourself – this is a great way to hear what you are playing and to identify any areas for development.
- Perform! Even if you just perform to a very small audience – share the pieces you are learning. There is a very different feeling to playing your piece live, managing the nerves and feeling under pressure, than playing it alone. This will help you take the piece to performance ready rather than practice ready.
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If I could go back and chat with my 22 year old self I would tell her that the mentors were WRONG!
One of my favourite parts of teaching is when students find or suggest new songs for us to learn together.
A life of music is hugely rewarding and fulfilling but, like most things, can get monotonous at times if you don’t keep it fresh and new. So how do we keep music and lessons interesting?