How to practice a musical instrument

musical instrument

Practicing a musical instrument is the most important thing you can do to improve as a player. Everyone who plays, be it on their own, in school, or with a private teacher, should practice. The amount of time and other factors will vary depending on the person’s age and ability level, but many factors remain the same.

First of all, set a goal for the amount of practice you’ll do. If you take lessons (group or private), your teacher will probably give you a goal to aim for. Beginners should practice 10 to 20 minutes a day, 5 or 6 days a week. Intermediate players should practice 20 to 30 minutes a day, 5 or 6 days a week. Advanced players should practice for about an hour (very advanced players, more than an hour) 6 days a week. Keep in mind that almost no one is perfect when it comes to practicing; you might play an hour one day and then not at all for two days. However, especially at the beginning level, consistency is key. It’s better to play for 5 minutes a day than half an hour one day and nothing for the rest of the week.

Practicing doesn’t have to occur in one long session. In fact, many professional players will break their practice time down into half-hour or one-hour sessions. If you are tired, no longer paying attention, or unable to play anymore (hands or mouth too tired), stop practicing. It’s no longer worth it. Come back in an hour or two when you’re not tired anymore. If your attention is wandering while practicing, take a short break and come back to it. You will end up getting more out of your time if you take breaks and are therefore focusing better than if you try to play straight through.

Set goals for yourself as far as what to practice. If you’re taking lessons, your teacher should outline some goals for you. Otherwise, create your own. Look at the music you’re working on and decide that you will learn a specific song or part of a song within one practice session. Maybe, if you already know your songs, you can choose to improve one part of them — perhaps your bowing could be better, or your articulation, your accents, or your dynamics. Write these goals down, and aim to reach them in your practice.

Practice in a setting that is ideal for you. For some people, this means a quiet room with absolutely no distractions. For others, it may mean being in the middle of a loud room with a TV on, people talking, and others also practicing. There is no “perfect” setting in which to practice. Wherever you focus best is where you should practice. Do, however, set up a regular practice space where you can keep your music stand, your music, and your instrument.

When practicing, don’t just idly play through your music. Sit down in your space and get out your goal sheet. Play through your warm-ups (if any) first (scales and etudes are good). Then, get out the main music you’re working on. Focus on playing the section you want to fix. Play through it a few times in order to get a feel for it.

Practice SLOWLY. Too many people think that speed is the key, that practicing at a fast tempo will help them move faster and become better musicians. This is not true. Practicing slowly and accurately is much, much better than fast practice. If your playing is accurate at a slow tempo, speed will come naturally. If you practice too fast, you will trip up over the same things over and over again.

If you notice that you are making some mistakes (or even if you feel like you are going to), stop and isolate those sections. Play them EXTREMELY slowly until you can get them right. If the rhythm is a problem, use a metronome. If you are a beginner and have not used a metronome before, put your instrument down and clap and count the rhythm. Then play the rhythm on your instrument without changing the notes (no fingers). Then, put it all together again, still slowly. Don’t allow yourself to practice mistakes — this is useless! Anything you do wrong more than once is a mistake, and you should stop and correct it immediately.

Beginners, who are unable to focus to this extent, should try to play slowly and often in order to become more comfortable with their instruments. They should rely on a teacher’s guidance to fix problems, and work on fixing problems during practice one at a time (as directed by a teacher).

If in doubt, on a woodwind or brass instrument, USE MORE AIR. Practice at a forte tempo all the time when you are a beginning or intermediate player. If you’re a string player, dig in more with your bow, move it closer to the bridge, and use more bow. Never be afraid to play loud. It is easier to learn loud playing first and learn to control a softer sound later than it is to play soft first and try to create a bigger sound down the line. PRACTICE LOUDLY.

  • When practicing, here are things you should keep in mind:
  • Have specific goals
  • Practice in a place where you can focus
  • Practice SLOWLY
  • Practice LOUDLY
  • Don’t practice mistakes; fix them immediately
  • Stop practicing when you are too tired to play or can no longer focus
  • Practice often (but not necessarily for a great amount of time!)

If you remember these things, you will grow to be a fine musician.


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