11 Essential Practice Tips

Playing your musical instrument is fun, but for some musicians, practicing scales, arpeggios, or rudiments is another story. Sometimes musicians avoid practice because when they do it, they don’t always get the results they want.

Regardless of the instrument you play, says concert violinist and instructor Kristopher Miller of Falls Church, Virginia, there are actions you can take to practice more, get better results, and increase your enjoyment. Here are 11 essential practice tips to make your music experience better.

Find the Time—Let’s be honest: practicing, like exercise, is not so bad once you get going. The tough part is making time for practice. To make it easier, set a regular practice time when distractions are least likely to hamper you, and stick with it. After a while, practice will become part of your routine.

Make the Most—Set up a practice area in your home. Make sure your music stand, music, metronome, amp, or whatever equipment and accessories you need are in place so you don’t have to spend precious time setting up and putting away.

Eyes on the Prize—What do you want to accomplish with your practice sessions?  Do you want to improve timing, learn a new piece, work on your breathing? To help you monitor your progress, set up short, medium, and long-term goals. Write them down and post them in your practice space. Reward yourself when you reach them.

Tune Up, Warm Up—Scales and rudiments are crucial, because they serve a dual function: they form the building blocks of good technique, and they are a valuable part of a stretching and warm-up regimen. Don’t be tempted to rush through these exercises to “get to the good part.”

Every Day, People—It’s important to practice regularly, even if it is for short sessions. Actually, there’s good news. Short, regular 15 to 20 minute practice sessions are better than a few longer ones. In the time it takes to cook a quick meal, you could be doing your playing a world of good.

Smooth the Rough—It’s fun to start at the top and play a piece straight through. But, to smooth out the rough spots, you need to go over them several times—often at a slower tempo—to ensure that you are playing them right. If you get frustrated with a specific section, take a break and play something you know well.

Be Pencil Sharp—Making pencil notations on your music can help you remember which fingers you prefer to use, where you need to breathe, and whether you need to work on those triplets. Colored pencils can help you create a code to separate different issues that need addressing.

Quick, Quick, Slow—If you encounter a passage that’s difficult, slow down until you can play it and avoid reinforcing bad habits. Play at a comfortable tempo until you learn it. Then gradually increase the tempo until you are playing as the music suggests.

It’s Playback Time—Recording your practice session on tape or a soundcard can be an ear-opening experience. It can help you quickly identify trouble spots not noticed during performance, and it’s a convenient way to keep track of your progress.

While-U-Wait—Keep a copy of the music you are working on in your handbag or briefcase. Then, while sitting on a plane or waiting at the dentist’s office, you can go over the piece, play the music in your head, and become more familiar with it.

Instant Reward—It’s important not to make practice into a chore, so after warming up with scales or rudiments, or practicing a new technique or a tough passage, give yourself a little time to play something you enjoy. This will reinforce the fact that you are playing for fun!

Start practicing with good habits today! When you do, you’ll enjoy practicing more because you will see better results. What’s more, if you have children, they will learn from your example that practicing is fun and rewarding.