If you’ve ever begun learning an instrument, you probably have many questions about what to expect. Hopefully, your instructor or teacher reviews some of the basics before getting started so that you aren’t jumping in blindly.
Music education and learning provide people of any age with numerous benefits. You will learn to express your emotions, improve your social skills, and young children learn language skills and excel in reading and writing at an early age. The advantages that music learning provides can help you throughout many other parts of life.
One of the crucial aspects of learning and mastering an instrument is understanding that your lesson time is not the only practice time. You must be disciplined enough to create your own time for practice to ensure growth and progress as you continue learning.
Why is Practicing an Instrument Important?
Some musical instruments may be easier to pick up and learn than others, but they all need much time and effort from you to advance in your skills. One day a week for a half hour or even a full hour isn’t enough time for you to progress without more practice time.
So, how do you practice an instrument effectively, and more importantly, how do you stay motivated to keep playing? Here are some helpful tips, tricks, and techniques to keep you learning and mastering your musical instrument.
How Often Should You Practice An Instrument?
As a beginner, you should practice your instrument at least five times per week. Eventually, you should try to practice every day. Consistent daily practice is key for developing muscle strength and memory, as well as improving your skills and learning how your instrument works.
How Long Should Your Practice Sessions Be?
You may want to start slowly and practice your instrument for 15 to 20 minutes per day. Eventually, you can build up your stamina and increase your practice sessions to thirty minutes to an hour or more each day.
How To Practice Your Instrument Step-by-Step
Here are some helpful steps to get you started with practicing an instrument effectively to ensure growth and progress as you learn.
1. Get Your Materials Together
You need your instrument and any necessary music theory or practice materials like sheet music. Bring your computer for reference and as a resource to look up information. Have some paper and a pencil to write down your progress and mark your music. Bring your phone or a camera to record.
Ensure you have everything you need to practice, such as your bow for your violin or your pick for playing the guitar. Consider bringing a metronome if you need to keep the rhythm or beat while you play.
2. Choose The Right Place to Practice
Setting up your own practice space is a vital part of helping to ensure that you get the most out of your practice time. You need a room or area within your home that is free of distractions. You need a location that allows you to keep concentrated and focused on the goal at hand.
It may be tricky to find a specific location, mainly if you’re working with a large practice instrument like the piano. If you have a portable keyboard, you may have more freedom in your practice area, but many pianos are stuck to their location.
Consider finding a space outside of the home so you’re sure to give your instrument the full attention it deserves. Maybe there is a practice room in a theater or school you could use, or perhaps if you live in a warmer climate, working outside could be a good practice space.
Your practice schedule may vary depending on how you need to work around your space. But you should aim to practice every day and make it part of your overall routine. You’ve heard the saying, and it’s true – practice makes perfect, so the more time you dedicate to your practice routine, the more you learn and grow.
3. Complete Some Basic Warm-Ups and Exercises
Like anyone working out a muscle, you must work out your instrument before playing a new song. It’s most helpful to start with some fundamentals, perhaps if you have an order of warmups that your instructor has given you. Practice the major scales, do some sight reading or play short, simple tunes to get your hands, fingers, and mindset ready for practice.
Warming up your instrument helps you feel more at ease and gives you more confidence when working on a challenging piece of music. It also puts your mind in the right place for practicing, so you can put genuine effort into the session. Don’t skip over the warm-ups, as they play a significant role in ensuring you get your practice off to a great start.
4. Work Toward Your Goal
Whatever your goal for the session is, work diligently to achieve it. If you want to master a scale, for example, repetition will be your best friend. Play that scale or chord progression over and over until it becomes ingrained in your brain and your fingers. Consistent practice is the best way to ensure you reach your objective.
5. Take Notes In Your Practice Notebook
Taking notes is another vital piece to getting the most out of your practice session and becoming a better player. Keep a pen and paper or journal handy to help you at all times. Pose questions for yourself that you can answer, such as:
- What part of the scale or musical composition gives me the most trouble?
- Am I struggling with my fingering or positioning?
- What part am I doing well? How can I apply it in other areas?
You may also want to record yourself, so you can play it back and more easily identify those problem areas to work on in your next practice. Recording helps you to take a step back and listen to your progress, so you can also measure how well you’re doing as you go along, too.
6. End the Session with Something Fun and Easy
Once you’ve hit your goal or reached your session’s practice time, it’s time to wind down. Pick something fun and simple, maybe something you’ve already mastered at this point in your progress while learning your instrument.
No matter how you’re feeling after practice, one of the best ways to ensure you return is by ending on a positive and uplifting note. Remind yourself that you can play well, and put your best into it so you can leave feeling great!
Tips for Staying Motivated to Practice Your Instrument:
Once you’ve gotten into a routine with your scheduled practices, you may get frustrated or discouraged as songs become more challenging. But genuine musicians don’t give up. Here are some of the best ways for students to stay motivated and practice their instruments.
Change Up Your Practice Schedule
If you’ve been practicing the same time every day, think about switching it up a bit. You may be more geared to concentrate better in the morning than in the late afternoons and evenings, where you initially set your practice time. Maybe sometimes you have the urge to pick up your instrument and play – that can be your new practice time for the day.
Finding your best time for playing can help you improve and keep you motivated. If you feel that you can tackle more effectively and productively in the morning, this is the best time for you to practice with your musical instrument.
Set goals for yourself and break them down into the steps you need to take to achieve them. Write your goals in your practice notebook where you can see them at the beginning of every practice session.
Take a Break
Sometimes you feel burned out or exhausted. Be realistic with your goals – music lessons and practice sessions are supposed to be helpful and encouraging, so when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated, it’s time for a break.
Walk away from your instrument, and take a whole day (or two) off from practicing if you need to take the time mentally before jumping back into it. Don’t let yourself feel obligated to practice unless you genuinely want to, so you can take a moment to remember why you wanted to learn this instrument.
Remind and Motivate Yourself
It’s helpful to check in with yourself and remember your motivation for learning and practicing your new instrument. It can help if you seek encouragement and support from friends or family, so perhaps bring your instrument to a party and break out some of your well-known pieces. Once you receive the encouragement, it’s an excellent motivator to help you continue learning.
For example, you may feel you missed the boat or have become too old to be a performer. There’s no such thing! If you’re good and still learning with your instrument, think about reaching out to others and starting up a band, even on a small scale.
Think about why you started learning the instrument in the first place and what you can do to keep playing. Write down motivational or touching sayings and put them around your sheet music, on your music stand, or within your notes so you can keep encouraging yourself to stick with it and keep going.
Be realistic with your expectations. It takes a lot of time to become a better player, and you can’t expect it to happen quickly. Consider that musicians take years to excel at their craft, so the same applies to your learning. Committing repertoire to your muscle memory takes a lot of patience and work with practice, and it can take years to master complex concepts.
For example, don’t wait until the last minute to practice; expect you will pick it up and feel prepared for your next music lesson. You need to make a plan ahead of time, practice it more than once, and continue to practice it so that you can advance.
Take Music Lessons
Taking music lessons with a professional is going to be the most helpful. If you were determined to self-teach, you would prohibit yourself from understanding the best ways to learn and grow with your instrument. Lessons are meant for you to learn and begin work on new material to help you progress a little at a time.
It’s difficult to learn and take on new concepts with music if you’re just practicing entirely on your own. Plus, it can deter your motivation if you don’t have someone to play for – so at the very least, having an instructor can help ensure that you will put the time and effort in to make progress.
Setting small goals means that you can reward yourself when you reach them. Your brain has this extraordinary ability that reacts to reward systems, so you feel confident and desire to continue repeating your successful behavior.
For example, if you master a challenging piece of music and learn to play it without making a mistake, you can reward yourself for your hard work with a special dinner or buy yourself something you’ve wanted.
You might even showcase it to friends so they can hear and congratulate your progress. It will give you a great sense of accomplishment and provide a path to continue to work hard and reach higher goals.
Getting The Most Out of Your Practice Sessions
Setting aside the best time within your practice routine is not always enough. You can incorporate other habits within your practice sessions to ensure you get the most out of them. Here are some helpful tips to aid you in your progress while learning your instrument.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Technology has so many helpful tools for us these days. Consider looking at other video tutorials to see how people play a particular piece of music you find very challenging. You may notice a different style or technique that you haven’t tried yet, which could help you become a better player.
You can also use technology in other ways, such as helping you to break up the practice session into more visible blocks of time. The visible benchmarks on the screen help keep your focus and concentration.
You could go online and research how a professional musician practices and what tools or games they use to help them get the most out of their time. If you can make practice time more fun, you’re more likely to get more out of it because you’re engaged.
Focus on Your Problem Areas
The first or few times you play an entire song through, markdown and make a note of the areas you’re struggling with to work on more closely. Pull out and isolate those problem areas and play them through in smaller parts. When you take out those portions of the music, you can practice them more intently, and it helps you to improve those trouble spots.
It might feel easy to be overwhelmed, stressed, or discouraged when you hear yourself making mistakes while playing. Rather than let the problems upset you, take out that passage and work on it with more focus until you can play it and the rest of the music. Once you isolate the problematic section, you’ll be able to break it down and make it easier for yourself.
Practice at Your Most Productive Time of Day
This goes hand-in-hand with changing up your routine when you decide to practice. You may have to do a little experimenting to see when you’re more productive during the day. Perhaps you need to try practicing at a few different times each day and see when you feel you get the most done.
Record Your Practice Sessions
You can see your long-term progress by recording yourself when you practice. It’s helpful not only for identifying problems but can also give you a great way to know how you progress over time.
You can use this to help encourage and motivate you when you feel discouraged. Look back at the times when you recorded songs with multiple mistakes and then were able to play them masterfully after hours of practice.
Don’t Give Up!
Some of the best players still need the motivation to practice. Older children, in particular, can give up easily when they feel it becomes too challenging to play an instrument.
Effective practice routines go a long way, but your mindset has to help you stay engaged and keep at it when things get complicated. Challenge yourself, but don’t attempt pieces far from your playing level. Instead, work to match your skill set and improve upon your learning.
Working with a teacher is the best way to ensure that you are working at the proper pace. Teachers can help you learn the best way to warm up your instrument and help you learn to break up your solo practice into shorter practice sessions so that you’re the most productive and effective. You’ll quickly advance from the beginner stage and find the best habits to apply in your independent practice.
Remember to give yourself plenty of time when tackling a difficult song and reward yourself when you overcome those hurdles in your playing. Your good habits with practice time and diligent work will pay off!