How to practice an instrument effectively?

Practicing effectively is what everyone who learn how to play an instrument should aim for. It becomes even more important for adult students to have their practice to be as efficient and effective as possible, as they don’t have much time to practice. Getting the self motivation to build good habits isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. It is hard for teachers to help because they aren’t with you when you’re home practicing after a music lesson.

Here are some tips for making the most of your practice session.

1. Set a goal for every practice session

Decide what you want to achieve and divide it to something you can measure.
Set a goal 

Decide what you want to achieve and divide it to something you can measure. By focusing on smaller and specific objectives you will make progress faster and feel a great sense of accomplishment as you complete each goal. If you want to improve a technical or physical ability like finger span or speed, then aim to nail down five specific arpeggios and scales. When tackling a difficult section that stops you dead in your tracks, it’s best to identify and isolate the problem section, break it down, make sure to play in and out of the problem section, your goal might be to play it through ten times without mistakes, and methodically put it back together.

2. Slow and deliberate practice

Slow practice

Slow practice will help you identify trouble spots, where you either don’t know the music as well as you should, or there’s some sort of technical problem that you need to fix.
Slow and deliberate practice

You should not be spending every practice session trying to play as fast as you can. When you start learning the piece, you need to ascertain your performance tempo. Write down the tempo you want to aim for as a performance tempo, and don’t start practicing the piece at anything faster than half your performance tempo.

The reason for this is simple. Slow practice will help you identify trouble spots, where you either don’t know the music as well as you should, or there’s some sort of technical problem that you need to fix. It’s very easy to hide these things if every practice session just consists of you skimming through the piece as fast as you can.

Metronome is your friend! When something is difficult, the best way to understand it is to break it down into its most basic pieces and slow them way down. Our brains have to find the paths to build new connections of understanding, and sometimes it just needs time! The best way to make sure you don’t miss anything is to slow it way down and give every individual note the attention it needs. Get a metronome so you have an outside helper making sure you stay slow and steady. Start at maybe 60 bpm, then when you can play it there, increase by 5-10 bmp until you’re at tempo. This is the oldest, most effective trick in the book.

Deliberate practice

Deliberate practice really comes down to your mindset: are you focused or engaged when you’re practicing? Do you know exactly what’s going on? All too often students switch off their brains when they’re playing a piece and their goal is just to get to the end without stopping. Deliberate practice refers to being in the moment, knowing exactly what your fingers are doing all the time.

For example, if you play something slowly, and you stumble on a particular phrase or passage, that’s a warning sign. Someone doing deliberate practice would stop, and play through this section giving them trouble very slowly, ensuring they know exactly what’s going wrong at what point. They then proceed to solve this problem. They do this for every technical issue they have in a piece, until they can play all the way through without these issues. Then they work on tempo.

All too often, students adopt a “spray-and-pray” approach; they know there are technical issues, but they plough through them in practice and hide them with the pedal. Unfortunately when they come to perform, this doesn’t work, because the brain hasn’t worked out these passages properly and when under pressure the fingers don’t know what to do. This leads to memory slips and other performance problems.

3. Practice Kind and Patient Self Talk

Of course we all talk to ourselves. Some of us do it out loud, others speak to themselves in their heads, but the most influential voice in the world is our own. Make sure that you’re not making your practice harder by being cruel to yourself. Saying things like, “I’m never gonna get that,” or “I messed up, I’m so dumb,” don’t usually do anything but slow us down. Instead, try being honest, but patient. You could correct the previously mentioned statements with, “I can’t play that yet,” or “Oops! I better go back and practice that.”

Remember that learning takes time, and sometimes the plateau you’re feeling is just waiting to bring you a breakthrough. Be patient. Be diligent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *