Practice Tips for Successful Progress

Careful and correct practice builds ability.  Ability = talent! 

Every guitar or piano student eventually settles into a practice system that works most effectively for their learning style.  However, sometimes finding that system, or needing to modify it to avoid monotony can be a process of trial and error.  Here are some ideas and tips that might make the process easier for you! 

Practice slowly. 

  • The brain needs time to process and absorb information.  If you go over new material too quickly, there isn’t enough time to pay attention to everything.   
  • There are many facets to playing music (fingering, rhythm, articulation & dynamics to name a few).  When you’re rushed there is not time to process and absorb all these details.   
  • Remember it’s much more difficult to UNLEARN a bad habit than to build a good one from the beginning. 


Short range vs. long range goals. 

Most students are immediately aware of their long range goal:  Play this whole piece beautifully!  In reality, we meet long range goals by following a series of short steps.  Set small goals by isolating sections of your piece, perhaps even just one per practice session, and master them.  Hint: frustration is always the result of trying to tackle too much at once.   

  • Practice environment must be conducive to concentration.   
  • Remove distractions. 
  • Keep your instrument tuned and in good working order.  Have any necessary accessories (music stand, amp etc) handy. 
  • Be enthusiastic about practice time.  (Parents, your enthusiasm and anticipation for a good practice will set the tone for your child’s efforts.) 


Set aside time in your daily schedule for practice.   

Being rushed to get finished so you can get on to the next activity of life does not allow for development of love for the current activity.   

Hint:  try mornings when possible.  Your brain is freshest and most focused when just rested.  You’ll absorb what you’re learning more easily than later in the day, when you’re tired and the events of the day are taking up your concentration. 

  • Play your old pieces regardless of how recently or many years back you learned them.  Or how simple they may seem as you progress.  Spending time in review reinforces skills and muscle coordination.  The stronger your foundation, the more easily  you can move forward. 
  • Listen to good performances of your pieces.  Your teacher can help you learn to hear & love quality.  The enjoyment of quality playing helps promote the pursuit of excellence. 


Practice in your head away from your instrument.   

  • Can you visualize your fingers playing the piece? 
  • Can you feel in your imagination how your muscles will move to accomplish it?   
  • Can you hear in your mind’s ear what it sounds like?   


Silly and fun ways to achieve necessary repetition without boredom: 

  • Adapt a board game.  Move your piece forward each time you practice the task at hand.  When your piece reaches the end, you’ll be much better than when you started! 
  • Write each item of your practice on a slip of paper and put all the pieces into a grab bag.  As you pull each piece out, roll a die to see how many times you will do that item today.   
  • If you have a digital instrument, see how many different sound selections you can use to play the assignment. 
  • If you like to paint or color, complete new sections of a picture each time you complete a repetition.  You’ll not only have more beautiful music, but some artwork to accompany it! 


A special note to parents of young students: 

You are always at some level a practice helper.  Whether directly involved in every step of the process, or simply a cheerleader encouraging them onward, your attitude and involvement at practice time will have a huge impact on your child’s success.  You signed your child up for lessons with the purpose of bringing them an education.  Be careful not to let life get too busy to fulfil that goal.  Do your best to be enthusiastic and not rushed.  Your child is under pressure to learn and produce.  That’s not a bad thing at all, it’s part of a child’s job in all areas of life.  However, if they are feeling extra pressure to get it done too quickly, or if they sense you don’t value the process because you’re distracted or disinterested then that’s the exact attitude they will develop.  And remember, there is a fine line between rewards and bribery.  Celebrate victories spontaneously.  This way good feelings are associated with the practice, but your child is not practicing solely for the treat.