Are you currently learning a music instrument, and you feel like you belong to any one of the following categories:
- You want to become better, but are not sure how to practice effectively
- You are practicing, but don’t seem to be getting better
We interviewed a few Pro musicians to give some of their best tips to improve your practicing strategy. This is what their experience has to offer.
1) Have a practice plan
Practicing can be uninspiring and monotonous. You are not alone if you don’t enjoy this activity. However, the unfortunate truth is that you have to practice in order to become better. There is no other way around it.
Here’s the caveat though — practicing hard is one thing, practicing smart is another. Since you cannot avoid this process, why not take measures to keep it as short as possible? Having a good practice strategy helps you avoid unnecessary grind, and the time saved can be reinvested to further extend your progress.
Here are what the Pros have to say about the smart way of practicing:
Set aside regular time to practice
Consistency is the secret ingredient.
Practice hours can be in the evening after dinner, or during your free time in the day (or even late at night if people around you are alright with it).
Experts recommend at least 3 hours a day if you plan to become a professional, or around 1 hour a day if you do it for leisure.
Prioritize trickier passages
One common practice mistake that beginners make is that they usually start practicing from the beginning of a piece. This eventually results in unbalanced performances that have a strong start but do not end well.
What you can do to avoid this is to identify difficult passages early and allocate more time to work on them. Start your practice sessions with them while your attention span is fresh. You do not need to spend as much time on passages that you have little to no trouble picking up.
Practice in smaller chunks
Similar to the previous point, it is not an optimal strategy to learn a piece by playing it entirely from the beginning every single time.
Consider breaking a work or a section into smaller manageable chunks, and if need be, practice in a slower tempo.
As you improve, string these bits together to form longer passages. Increase practice tempo whenever you are ready.
While it is admirable, it is not recommended to practice extremely long hours at one go. Our attention span can only remain in an optimal state for a period of time without rest.
As our stamina wears, our productivity will also decrease. This means that your practice becomes increasingly ineffective the longer you practice without break.
There is no perfect formula as everyone functions differently, but a good starting point will be resting 15 minutes for every 45 minutes of practice. As you spend more time learning an instrument, you also will understand the limits of your stamina.
If you have periods of time during your day that you are unable to practice, consider trying this method called mental practice.
Research has shown that a practice strategy that includes both mental and actual practicing is more productive overall than relying only on practicing. Note that mental practice is not a substitute to actual practice, but a supplement. You need to practice as well.
What do you do during mental practice? Imagine you have an actual instrument before you. Rehearse every movement in your head – fingerings, embouchures if you play a wind instrument, gestures, and more. This helps to prepare your mind during an actual practice or a performance.
Lastly, it helps if you already have a work or a passage memorized. If not you can use a score to assist you.
2) Listen to performances by professional musicians
Not sure what a piece or a particular passage should sound like? Listen to a professional recording. It immediately gives you a clearer picture of how to perform it.
It also gives you different musical approaches by professionals on their interpretation of a work.
If you have the means and time, we recommend you to attend a live concert every now and then.
Listening to performances through a recording and watching them live are different experiences. The presence of an audience, the acoustics of a performing space, puts both the performer and listener in a different frame of mind.
3) Find opportunities to perform
Pros also agree that one of the most effective ways to improve your playing is simply to play more.
Find opportunities to play before an audience. It is a definite method to assess the readiness level of a piece you are learning.
It does not have to be an elaborate concert or recital. Gather one or a few listening ears, then play a piece, or even an excerpt, for them. You can even ask them for their feedback.
4) Find a good music mentor
A mentor is a precious figure in everyone’s life. A good music mentor will make a huge difference in your music education.
They can be your music teachers, a senior in your school or in your life. Find someone whom you feel that you can connect with. There is something magical about a great relationship between a mentor and mentee.
Not sure where to find a music teacher?
As music professionals ourselves, we know the music scene very well. That is why we are confident that we can help you look for a great music teacher. Let us know by filling our Hire a Pro teacher form.
So here you go – the best practice tips, according to Pro musicians. Happy practicing and until next time!