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5 tips for a more effective music practice routine

Apple, in Music lessons
Jan 06, 2022 | 3 min read

As musicians, we have all been taught that practice makes perfect. We often neglect questioning how effective our music practice really is. The more time we dedicate towards our instruments, the better we will become. In reality however, how long you practice is not nearly as important as how you practice. The problem with blindly playing scales and exercises for hours every day is that these motions rarely translate into real-world musicality. In order to be able to play like a musician, you first need to practice like one. With that in mind, here are 5 suggestions for developing a more effective practice routine, and ultimately practicing more musically.

effective music practice

1. Add dynamics to your scales

One problem with practicing scales is that they do not sound musical when played in their normal sequences. Almost no music consists of a single scale being played front to back without any variation in melody, rhythm or structure. 

A great way to make your scales sound more musical is to add some simple dynamic changes. For example, try starting your scales at piano and then gradually increase to forte once you reach the top of the scale. You can then decrease your volume again when descending. Besides making scales more interesting and enjoyable to play, this technique also helps train your coordination, while building muscle memory that will allow you to more easily control the dynamics of your instrument.

2. Add rhythmic variations

Scales and exercises are often taught and played in simple 4/4 time. Try making them more interesting by adjusting the meter or structure of your exercises. For example, you can practice scales in triplets instead of quarter or eighth notes. You can also change the sequence of the notes, eg. 3 notes ascending, 1 note descending etc. Incorporating these changes will not only make your practice more challenging, but also much more musical, as many melodies are actually scales that are played in a more interesting order. 

Practicing slowly is another effective way to add some variation to your routine, and help you focus in on areas where you could spend a little more time on improving!

3. Practice song sections instead of exercises

While exercises can be great when applied in a certain context, the best way to gain practical instrumental skills is by playing real music. Instead of going through boring practice routines that consist of exercise after exercise, try practicing with songs you enjoy instead. For example, if you are a guitarist who wants to master pinch harmonics, you can pick a song that features a lot of harmonics and learn those sections. Aside from being much more fun and rewarding, this method will give you more practical skills to bring on stage with you. 

effective music practice

4. Practice with friends helps boost effective music practice!

Another way to make your practice more musical is to invite other musicians to practice with you. With multiple people playing a certain exercise or scale, especially on different instruments, the act of practicing becomes much more creative and collaborative. If you are practicing a scale, get a friend to play a corresponding chord progression. You can also harmonize scales, provide comping while the other person solos, and more. The possibilities are endless. 

5. Create your own exercises

If you have specific musical areas that you would like to improve on, you can design exercises and routines around those areas. This allows you to make your practice as musical as you want it to be!

For more practice tips, take a look at our post on practice habits every musician should develop!

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