Practice and Technique
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge
1. Practice, practice, and then practice some more.
2. Think about learning an instrument like learning a language. Kids learn languages by being immersed in the language. Immerse yourself in music. Listen to music constantly, play constantly. Play everyday.
3. Surround yourself with musicians who are better than you. When I first started playing I had friends who had already been playing for a few years. I learned a lot of from them. In college I was surrounded by students who had been playing for YEARS. I started classical guitar my freshman year in college. I had a lot of catching up to do. I practiced my butt off and within a couple of years I had caught up.
4. Practice everyday. Even if it is for just 10 minutes. This is particularly important if you are just starting out. Playing an instrument is all about muscle memory. You develop that memory through repetition.
5. Stay inspired. It’s up to you to be inspired. How does one stay inspired?? Listen or watch a video of a great artist. Go to a concert. Jam with friends.
6. Take a break from the instrument. I realize this is the opposite of #4 but sometimes it is nice to get away from things and recharge your batteries. Take a couple days off from playing or even listening to music.
7. Ignore people who say there is only one way to do something.
8. Develop a repertoire. A repertoire is a group of pieces you can play. I always suggest that my students, regardless of style or ability, have 7-10 pieces they can play from beginning to end. I would recommend running through your repertoire 2-3 times a week. Your repertoire will continuously change. You might get tired of a piece and replace it with another piece. I will have pieces I get bored with and not play them for a couple of years. When I return to them they are fresh to me.
9. Practice in small segments. I’ll often practice 20 minutes at a time. I don’t set a timer. I just listen to my body. If I find that my mind is wandering or if I am tired, I’ll take a break and do something else. If you practice 20 minutes at a time three times a day you will have practiced for an hour and that hour will probably be far more productive and enjoyable then if you had practiced an hour straight.
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” –Yoda
10. Have fun. Music is fun. Practicing and playing is fun. If it seems like hard work or like it’s pulling teeth to play, then find a way to make it enjoyable. You don’t have to play music. There is no law that says, “YOU MUST PLAY MUSIC!”
11. Keep your instrument with you at all times. Maybe the opportunity will arise that you can practice, or perform for somebody, or jam with people.
12. Find a good teacher.
13. Have a question? Search YOUTUBE. Want to learn how to play a G chord with ease? Search, “How to easily play a G chord” and see what comes up.
14. Practice slowly. Like half speed or even slower. For example, I spend time practicing this Bouree by Bach at quarter note=60 or even slower.
15. Break up anything difficult into smaller sections and practice each individual move. In the Bach excerpt above there are six different moves (Example 2).
I would do ten repetitions of each move and then start combining them. I would practice #1 and #2 together. Repeat that ten times. Then practice #2 and #3 together and repeat that ten times. I would make my way through the section that way. This practicing technique works very well for scales, too.
16. Practice the parts separately. Melody/bass. Here is the first couple measures of Francisco Tarrega’s famous, Lagrima.
It is made up of a melody:
An inner voice:
And a bass voice:
I would practice these parts separately for a couple of reasons: first, it allows you to practice the technical aspect of the piece without worrying about the other voices. Second, it allows you to focus your mind on each individual part so that you can better hear each part when played all together.
“If you want to be a rock star or just be famous, then run down the street naked, you’ll make the news or something. But if you want music to be your livelihood, then play, play, play, and play! And eventually you’ll get to where you want to be.” Eddie Van Halen.
Here is another section from the same song:
An inner voice:
The bass line:
What I find interesting about this passage is the inner voice. It rises. Most students I have had who have worked on this song never hear it rise until they played the parts separately.
“Don’t be afraid, just play the music.” –Charlie Parker
17. Record yourself. When you are playing and listening to yourself play you can’t focus 100% attention on how it sounds because part of your brain power is focused on actually playing the piece. If you record yourself playing you can focus 100% attention on listening to it afterwards. I also find mistakes to be less obvious when I listen to the recording than when they happened in the moment.
18. Practice with and without a metronome. Metronomes can be a great tool to practice with. It is also important to be able to play without a metronome.
19. Don’t have enough time to practice? Look at your schedule. Maybe you can get up a ó hour earlier or go to bed a ó hour later (that’s my personal choice since I am sooooo not a morning person).
20. Practice technique but remember that music is more than speed.
21. Remember why you started playing music. Don’t lose that feeling.
“Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.” ― Frank Zappa