Does music practice feel like a boring chore? Or do you feel like you’re not progressing as fast as you would expect? Maybe your music practice sessions aren’t optimized in a way that would allow you to really develop your musicianship. In this post, you’ll find tips to help you get on the path to rich and healthy music practice so you can achieve your goals faster.
When we talk about music practice, most of the time we are referring to the act of practicing music on an instrument. One of the goals of instrumental practice, if not the main one, is to be able to use it as a conduit for your musical ideas, to a point that it becomes an extension of you. All this may seem obvious but this perspective can deeply affect the way you actually practice your instrument and develop your musical skills while at it. If you understand this, you’ll avoid boredom and every practice session will seem like an adventure of self-discovery and musical development.
One other thing to keep in mind is that studying music is a life-long and continuous process and that consistency is key. So, you need to make sure to keep showing up to your music practice sessions and reap the rewards of those efforts. The amount of time you spend practicing matters, but it is also very important the quality of the time you put in. If you are focused and make efficient use of your time, you will progress much faster and get the results you want. Study hard, but study smart.
This is something that you need to do before picking up your instrument. Organize what you are going to practice, how much time you are going to spend with each material, and then create a proper practice schedule. This actually makes things simpler for you since you know what to practice ahead of time and thus, most likely you will go through all the things you need to work on during the allotted time and avoid burnout. That said, make a list of the subjects you need to cover and define how much time you are going to dedicate to practicing. Then divide that time into chunks per subject you need to cover and stick to it.
Not having a practice schedule will probably make you feel like you are aimlessly playing the same things that you already know, increasing the chances of boredom and not seeing much progress over time. One can say that if you are practicing what you know, or are always too comfortable, then you are not doing it right!
Playing an instrument is a physically demanding task. That said, you need to prepare your muscles for the activities you are going to realize. And much like anything, you don’t need to always do the same things to warm-up. During those 15 minutes or so, you can do scales – probably the ones you are going to need for a music piece you are playing; practice chords; rhythm changes; revisit what you rehearsed in the last session; etc.
Please, do yourself a huge favor and use a metronome! It should be needless to say but, it is paramount that you as a musician are able to play in time. There is no way you can really enjoy playing with others and develop your musicianship if you are not able to keep and play in time. Start slow, be focused and mindful of what you are doing and build on that so you don’t internalize mistakes. In case you don’t know or feel unsure about how to use a metronome in your music practice, check out this article on how to do it and the reasons why you should do it.
Music has so many avenues to explore, be it from different techniques, new chords, scales, language, expression to different genres. You don’t have to stick to the same old things all the time. For instance, the harmonic minor scale can be found in various musical contexts. Now that you learned it and know how it sounds, you can explore its modes, chords, then their respective extensions and arpeggios on your instrument. Depending on the genre, you will find different ways of exploring these materials and use them in context, both harmonic and melodically. Looking at your music practice through different approaches will surely help you introduce novelty into your practice sessions.
Although it’s not always possible, try to practice musically. Alright, you have scales and arpeggios to practice and these patterns need to be ingrained into your muscle memory. But don’t be confined to just playing scales or arpeggios up and down. Don’t forget that everything that you need to practice is so that you can actually make music. That said, find ways to immediately apply what you are studying to a musical context such as improvising over a backing track or, even better, create your own backing tracks. In the case of the latter, you will be learning how to use a DAW (digital audio workstation), how to record yourself, compose for other instruments, mixing and apply your musical knowledge to create chord progressions in a structured piece of music.
With that said, don’t limit your studies to just playing music pieces. Try to understand what makes them work, what scales are being used, the type of chords and chord progressions, are there any modulations? After you’ve done this analysis, try to create a musical exercise or a musical etude where you get to use the materials you are learning. As soon as you can, try to apply what you have learned, as it is a way of understanding how comfortable you feel with that technique or concept.
You know, that part of the song that is giving you a hard time every single time. Should you just go through the whole thing again and hope for the best? Wrong! You should definitely address the problem. Identify it, isolate it, understand what is going wrong and break the whole passage into small and more manageable chunks, slow it down and build up using the metronome.
Although you’ll need different strategies for different problems, you’ll see that this approach yields great results in the long run. You’ll have to be creative to solve specific problems so don’t shy away to come up with your own exercises to tackle your personal difficulties. And again, try to create little pieces of music from the exercises you create to overcome your personal difficulties. It will make your practice sessions more musical, more fun and yet more challenging.
This strategy is sometimes overlooked but you can also recur to memory as means to preview and access experimented positions. Try to visualize yourself playing a certain musical passage. In other words, you are accessing a part of the mind that translates an intended action into a physical action. If you are able to visualize and recreate the movements that you need to execute, as vividly as possible, you can improve your muscle memory faster.
One other situation that has been shown to yield great results, is to study or analyse the music you want to practice before you actually play it. Figure out where the hard parts are, what will you do to tackle them, the scales and chords you will need to use, music piece structure, the meter, tempo, and so on.
In our day and age this is very easy to accomplish even if your only resource is your smartphone. After a music practice session, record yourself playing in audio and/or in video. Either improvise or just play through the music piece you have been practicing. Then, step back from the instrument and stop to listen. This is critical because you will be listening to your strengths and weaknesses. In other words, listening to what you need to improve upon and then include it in your practice sessions.
And that’s it! I hope that this post has inspired you to make the most out of your music practice sessions. Remember that your main goal is to master your instrument in order to use it as an extension of your musical mind. With that said, always try to practice musically and above all, mindfully. If you follow these tips, you’ll progress much faster, effectively and with a greater sense of accomplishment as you master each subject. But most of all, have fun and enjoy the journey!
About the author:
Pedro Murino Almeida is an Award-Winning composer with the musical project Follow No One, expert musician and experienced music teacher. He maintains a blog called Beyond Music Theory with the aim of providing tools and instruction for beginning to advanced music students and those wishing to learn about music theory, how to use it and improve their songwriting and music production skills.
Soundbrenner is a company dedicated to helping musicians stay focused on what truly matters: their music. By creating innovative devices, such as Soundbrenner Pulse and Core, our goal is to deliver the best possible practice experience for musicians. Click here to find out more.
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