Practice these 5 musical steps to improve your playing!

Learning to practice is a skill in itself and one that many people get wrong. Musicians are trained from an early stage that time is the most important factor for improvement. ‘You should practice 30 minutes a day‘ is often said to beginner musicians by their instrumental teachers. Now don’t get me wrong, most teachers who say this know that the practice won’t happen every day but do hope it will encourage you to practice at least a few times a week. When students get serious about making music a potential career and are considering applying to a conservatoire or university, the concept of the amount of time you practice being the most important factor in musical success is mentioned again. It is not uncommon for the recommendation of needing to spend 6 – 8 hours practising a day or you have no chance of making it gets given out.

So is time really the only factor that should be considered?

You will often hear mentioned the quote by Malcolm Gladwell, author of the popular book Outliers who wrote that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anythingHe said 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.

What often gets missed is the deliberate practice and instead the focus is on the time aspect. Yet we have all been in a situation where we have practiced a piece or a passage over and over and it never sticks, regardless of the time spent. So what else can we do as part of our practice routine for successful musical progress?

  1. Focus on creating goal-orientated practice

In truth, most of us decide to practice and follow the same pattern – warm ups, technical exercises, play through the pieces and put the instrument away. However, did you consider what the goal was today when you practised? What section of the music did you want to fix? What technical challenge do you need to improve to make that tricky section sound cleaner and more musical?

Once we start to create short-term goals for each practice session, we can then measure how successfully we are achieving it. 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. With this approach you probably could achieve more improvement in ten minutes than in a random practice time where you just focus on hitting the 30 minute time goal.

2. Practice slowly and with accuracy

There is a great book called The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry by Barry Green where he interviews famous musicians. One of the themes that came through in the book was that when learning a new piece to play any new piece of music incredibly slowly with no mistakes and focus on all the technical aspects on the page. Ensuring that this was mastered at the start or learning a new piece was important so that mistakes didn’t creep in from the start that needed unlearning.

What does that mean for us in the rehearsal room? Focus on technical aspects of the pieces you are playing – smooth playing where needed, good articulation, dynamics, 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. As you play the more challenging works, focusing on pitch and rhythm is just not enough.

3. Listen to the piece

I think listening to the piece of music is often neglected as part of the practice process, and yet a fantastic way to help with your success as a musician. Listen to the pieces you are learning being played by other performers, even if it is not on the same instrument. Nowadays it is so easy to listen and watch other performers of all abilities from around the world on Youtube. Don’t be afraid to play along.

Ensure that you understand all the musical terms on the music – dynamics, tempo, expression markings. Listen to the performances for the attention to detail in the playing. Listen for what you like and sounds musical to you. Again, this will help you aim to create a more authentic performance.

4. Work on the hard parts

This was a great quote by Wynton Marsalis, famous trumpet player and music activist. He says that it is important to practice what you can’t play not to keep playing the easy parts. Sounds obvious, but how many of us do this in the practice room? You practice your scales – do you really practice the hard ones or do you go for your favourite ones? What we need to remember is if it’s easy – you can already play it and you have already done the learning! Working on the challenging sections is how you will make faster progress. Sometimes a challenging section might require you to work on a specific instrumental technique so it is good to find a study or method book that will help supplement with this particular challenge.

5. Record yourself and Perform!

Sometimes when we are so focused in the practice room we can’t hear the improvements we are making, so don’t be afraid to record yourself regularly in a rehearsal. It will allow you to hear the sections that need more attention and will let you celebrate all the progress you are making. It’s important to celebrate all the small improvements each week to keep motivated and feeling positive about your achievements. Feeling good about your progress is vital to maintaining a positive attitude to practising.

And finally, even if you just perform to a very small audience of family or friends – 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.

If you are ready to take your music to the next level then we are here to help and offer classes for all ability levels.

* As an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases. It’s okay – I love all these products anyways, and you will too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: