Ten Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Music Practice Sessions
A teenage boy wandered into the studio I was teaching in once for his first lesson. Whenever meeting someone for the first time I like to ask a little about themselves, what experiences they may have had with the instrument or music in the past, and what they hope to achieve in the future from having lessons.
This boy was convinced he would only need 1 lesson. I would show him where to place his fingers on the guitar and he would be good to go. When I (gently) suggested it was not that simple he disagreed. He had never actually played an instrument before, so was surprised to discover that his fingers didn’t do exactly what he wanted them to do straight away. By the end of the 30 minutes we had covered a few things for him to go away and work on and discussed the importance of regular practice for improvement.
His mum called me during the week and said that her son was very disappointed that I had not shown him what he wanted to learn and they would not be continuing with lessons.
Can’t win them all!
Regular practice is important for progress. There is really no quick and easy method that can teach you to play something in a day/week/month, no matter what you might see promised online. To achieve as a musician requires a commitment to consistent work. And it needs to be focused on what it is you wish to achieve or improve upon.
So here are 10 tips to help you make the most of practicing an instrument.
1. Do it regularly.
Every day is great, but you should be practicing at least 5 times per week to achieve as a musician. The time of day you practice is something you will need to determine (or your mum or dad), but be disciplined in sticking to whatever time is decided on. Consistent practice will see you progress far more quickly than trying to do a really long session once a week and then not touching the instrument for several days.
2. Practice for the pre-determined length of time.
With your teacher, work out how long you should be practicing for each day given your age, experience level and musical goals. And when you come to practice, work on whatever materials have been set down for that time, don’t just play what you already know or mindlessly start jamming on something.
3. Reward Yourself.
Once you have completed your practice schedule, by all means have fun and play whatever you like or jam on tracks as you please.
Playing in a relaxed state is very important, from both a physical and performance point of view. If you are straining to hold the instrument, play a piece, running out of breath, getting neck and back pains, or can’t quite see the music stand, then some changes need to be made. Adjust your posture, correct your technique, look at the instrument and see if it is the right one for you or if it needs a setup to play more easily. Tension will limit your progress.
5. Make your practice area the best it can be.
Make sure your chair is the correct height, your area is well ventilated and has plenty of light. Also make sure you can practice without interruption. Sinking into a lounge whist playing guitar to a TV show does not amount to a productive practice session; save that as a reward if you like doing that.
6. Musical progress is a journey, not a destination.
Mastering an instrument is not something that ever ends. Music is endless, so we never ‘arrive’ at the destination. Each of us will come to the instrument with different challenges and our progress in each area will not be the same as someone else. And that is OK. When I was in high school I used to play guitar with a friend on a regular basis. He had a much better musical ear than I did at that stage, and could seemingly play the chords to any song he thought of. I was much more advanced technically than he, and could play far more complex pieces with much less effort. I struggled to play be ear as freely as my friend could at the time. At first I was discouraged because I listened to some very poor advice - a ‘true musician’ doesn’t need to work on their ear. That is not true. I put aside those silly notions and started to work on my musical ear…and I got better. I kept working at it and I kept getting better. Now I regularly play professional gigs with bands or musicians where we may not have even met before the gig. I just turn up and play, confident in my musical ear and knowledge of the guitar. This was inconceivable when I was 15.
7. Be open to your teacher’s advice.
When working with a teacher, listen to what they have to say. Do not assume you have it altogether. And if they offer advice for correcting your playing, then consider what they are saying, why they are saying it and how you can apply it. Do not become defensive or dismissive because ‘you know better’.
8. Take care of your instrument.
Make sure your instrument is playable, can be tuned, and functions as it should. Many times I had kids arrive at my home or teaching studio with guitars that either could not be played (their parents had found a bargain at Aldi or on eBay that looked to good to pass by), or perhaps with strings that were black and rusted as the guitar had sat around the house for years. If you are not sure about your instrument, take it to someone you can trust and ask for their advice. If the strings are black, your reeds have chips in them, the mouthpiece doesn’t sit properly in the instrument, then get it serviced, replace the consumables, or learn to do fix it yourself where appropriate. Having a well-maintained and played instrument will make a world of difference to your playing.
9. Keep a practice diary.
This can just be an exercise book where you record your sessions, write down what you have worked on, and also write down any questions you have for your teacher. You can also write down songs and styles you might like to learn in the future.
Another great benefit of keeping a diary is that you can look back when you get frustrated and see how far you have already come. That can help you to push through musical challenges as you can see that you have done it before.
10. Be on time and prepared for your lessons.
Being on time is not only respectful and courteous of your teacher’s time (and students who have later lesson times scheduled) it will also give you the best opportunity to get the most from the lesson. Do not assume that the teacher can merely go later or change times easily because you are late. Make sure you take your instrument, books and accessories that you need to each lesson. Not doing so can see you lose valuable time for getting the most from the lesson as your teacher may need to rewrite or print out the material again, or make alternative arrangements for that day instead of being able to focus on what they were expecting to do. Don’t assume you can just play one of their instruments, because that might not be possible. Don’t assume they will have spare strings , reeds etc, on hand that they can just donate to your instrument because you hadn’t replaced the string or purchased new reeds during the week.
Follow these tips and you’ll find practice more fun and productive, which in turn will make you want to practice and play more!
If you are interested in knowing more about the lessons we offer at Engadine Music or need to have your instrument repaired or serviced, please do not hesitate to come into Engadine Music Store, 25 Station St, Engadine, call us on (02) 9520 3044 or email your music lesson inquiries here.