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Practice Tips for Learning an Instrument

Practice Tips for Learning an Instrument

When you’re learning a musical instrument, whether you are just starting out or already have some of the basics down, the most critical thing you can do to improve is to learn to practice effectively. Practicing with a purpose or goal in mind is the first thing you need to do to set yourself up for success. Setting goals can sometimes be daunting, but when you find ways to be inspired, it’s easier to stay motivated. Let’s delve deeper into how you can set and reach your musical goals and master your instrument.

How to Set Goals for Learning an Instrument

Just like any goal you set in life when you decide on a goal for learning a musical instrument, you should be giving yourself clear direction. When you look at your goal, you should be able to see a path from where you are now to where you want to be. A good goal isn’t merely a wish but a plan filled with actionable items that you can consistently work on in order to see results. If, at the moment, your goal is a little vague like, “I want to be a good guitar player,” you’ll want to set tasks within that goal. Strive for something more attainable and quantifiable, like, “I want to learn and memorize five new chords this week.” As you achieve these measurable tasks, you will inch closer to your main goal.

Make a Plan

Before sitting down to practice, you should first plan what you want to accomplish. Whether it’s working on scales or figuring out rudiments, by walking into your practice room with a task in mind, you will be focused and motivated to attain that goal. A good way to approach your plan is first to set a monthly goal, then weekly benchmarks within that month, and daily tasks or practice routines within each week. Planning this way will give you a clear vision of your goal and the steps you need to take along your musical path.

Make Sure You’re Committed

If you aren’t fully committed to a goal, there’s no point setting it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge yourself. Just make sure you’re learning or doing something you love or can see yourself becoming passionate about. When you work on something that inspires you, it will propel you forward. Playing music that keeps you engaged and interested will help you remain focused. This is especially true when learning techniques that feel hard or frustrating. When choosing a song to learn, pick one that you already enjoy listening to or that is fun to play.

Be Accountable

To increase your resolve to achieve your goals, you need to create a system of accountability, either to yourself or with another person. One way to approach your goals with the idea that you will account for your efforts is to take weekly one-on-one lessons with an instructor. In addition to the insight and support an instructor offers, they can also give you specific things to practice and follow up on your progress in the next lesson. This method of teaching you new concepts and checking to see how you’re grasping them is a great way to stay motivated.

Keep a Practice Log

If you don’t have another person to be accountable to, you’ll need to be accountable to yourself. You can track your progress and establish accountability to yourself by keeping a log of your daily practice routine. If you outline your work toward each item and note what still needs work, you can later reflect on how to best work through these challenges during your next practice session.

Schedule a Performance

Putting a date on your calendar to perform will give you something to work towards and keep you progressing. If you’re not quite ready to book a show at your local club, you can simply commit to playing a song at a party or your next family gathering. You can volunteer to lead a couple of campfire sing-a-longs at an upcoming campout or play a carol or two on Christmas. Just commit to something with a deadline. Plus, having the support of an audience, especially one made up of family and friends, is incredibly encouraging when you’re starting out on an instrument.

How to Practice Effectively on a Musical Instrument

You’re probably familiar with the phrase “practice makes perfect.” However, in the world of music, it’s often minor imperfections that can make a performance compelling or create a desirable vibe or groove. Since “perfection” in music can be subjective, perhaps the more important phrase to keep in mind when learning an instrument is “practice makes permanent.” In other words, your body will save how you carry yourself when you practice, from your posture and form to your overall attitude and level of concentration. Habits you create in practice are engrained and will manifest themselves when you perform. So remember: practice like it matters, because it does.

Below are a few more things to keep in mind to create an environment that helps you practice more effectively.

Create a Distraction-Free Zone

Just like you wouldn’t study for an exam at a noisy party, you don’t want to practice your instrument in an environment where you’re unable to concentrate. Maintain the focus to work toward your goals by finding a place to practice that is quiet, comfortable and free of distractions—like TVs, computers and phones. You should also set up your practice space with any accessories you’ll need: a metronome, writing utensil, music books, etc.

Don’t Give Yourself Any Excuses

When it’s time to practice, your instrument should be accessible and ready to play. You shouldn’t have to dig through a closet, hunt for cables or replace a broken string before you start. Remove every possible obstacle that could keep you from practicing and anything that could distract you during practice.

Set Aside Time for Quality Practice

If you make practice part of your daily routine, you will see results. Even if you’re only able to play for 10–20 minutes, the goal is to commit yourself to learn something new on a schedule that you can maintain. It’s also important to remember that the quality of your practice is more important than the mere amount of minutes spent holding your instrument. Setting aside 15 minutes of focused, purposeful practice will do more for you than an hour spent messing around on your instrument while you binge watch TV.

Be Patient

Starting out is often the hardest part of learning an instrument. Success begins with finding the courage to try. Just be patient and stay fixated on your inspirations and goals.

Don’t Burn Yourself Out

Effective practice requires concentration, but it should also be enjoyable. Learning is a marathon, not a race. Don’t be too demanding on yourself. If your mind wanders during long sessions, break up your practice into bite-size blocks. If you absolutely need to give yourself time off during busy times at work or school, set a date to return to practice so you don’t lose focus of your goals. If you find the goals you initially set for yourself are too demanding, reevaluate them. Then set new ones that are more realistic for your schedule and current skill level.

Remember That Your Hard Work Will Pay Off

While the tips above are related specifically to the practice room, it is also important to remember that playing music has benefits that will last a lifetime. These include a greater sense of achievement and patience, enhanced memory and motor skills, and a reduction in stress. Above all, learning an instrument should be fun and serve as a way to find your sound or express yourself.

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