How to Practice Music – 7 Steps To Great Results
Learning how to practice music has many moving parts – Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Form, Dynamics, Tone, Expression, Styles, etc. How do you put it all together?
Don’t be overwhelmed. You can’t possibly learn it all, but you can learn what you need.
This post is taken from my book/course, How To Read Music: See it, Say it, Play it, so some of the examples may not apply to you.
Is there a secret?
With any skill – from basketball to basket weaving, writing code or writing songs, some people make it look easy.
How did they do it? How did they transition from newbie to pro? Can you learn their secrets?
You can. It all begins with one word…
Learning how to practice music is the secret sauce the masters share.
“Don’t I already know how to practice music?”
Most of us think we do.
However, learning how to practice music is not easy. It takes time, dedication and sacrifice.
So, before we look at how to practice music, let me say what practice IS NOT:
It IS NOT jamming on something you can already play.
It IS NOT showing off something that comes easy.
It IS NOT skipping the difficult parts.
It IS NOT ignoring the instructions and doing it your way.
Practice IS… taking something difficult and making it easy.
In other words, you work on the things you cannot do until you can do them.
You break things down into smaller parts that are easy – and slowly add them together to make the whole.
As you are learning to read music, there are fundamentals to work on every time you practice.
You will always practice the BASIC ELEMENTS.
Truthfully, musicians practice these musical elements, no matter how skilled they are.
The Basic Elements:
RHYTHM – The organization of sound & silence.
PITCH – The high and low notes of melody.
TECHNIQUE – The physical elements of playing an instrument.
TONE – Sound quality and intonation.
TERMS – Musical descriptions that help with interpretation.
These basics of music don’t change.
However, performance demands are fluid and constantly changing:
- listening to yourself
- listening to the other musicians
- recognizing and performing rhythms
- recognizing notes/pitches on the staff
- making volume choices with dynamics
- understanding musical terms
- following the road map (form) and more.
And all of this occurs simultaneously. This is why “How To Read Music – See it, Say it, Play it” is so effective.
It was written to introduce, drill and then perform the elements in a real, musical context with play-along recordings.
Therefore, you learn HOW to practice, WHAT to practice, and WHY… as you experience it in real-time.
How to Practice Music with Maximum Results
No matter what musical skill you want to learn, here are 7 steps to success:
1. Set a time and place to practice.
Decide when, where and how long you will work.
Example: Monday through Friday at 5:30 pm for 30 minutes.
Or, if you are a morning person – 7:00am until 7:20am in your bedroom, or anywhere without distraction.
Choose a time and make it a routine.
If learning how to practice music is your goal – allow no excuses. Repetition will get results.
2. Read instructions/details carefully to understand the goal(s).
It is easy to rush and miss important details.
Trouble is, those little details could be the whole reason for the lesson. Ignore them and you’ll regret it later.
That leads to mistakes:
“What is that note?”
“How do you count that rhythm?”
“What does that word mean?”
Then, you have to go back and find the breakdown. It wastes time and is frustrating.
Since learning how to practice music is a do-it-yourself discipline, do yourself-a-favor and read all the information.
3. Diagnose the Problem.
Imagine for a second – you’ve just played song #20 “Reggae From Jamaica.”
If you play it perfectly, without mistakes…great! You are ready for song #21 “China.”
But, what if you are making mistakes? What do you do?
Musical mistakes are always caused by weakness in one or more of the BASIC ELEMENTS.
Is it a rhythm problem – do you understand the notes and rests?
Could it be a tempo problem?
If the recorded track is too fast, play it by yourself with a metronome only. Start slowly until there are no mistakes. Gradually speed it up.
Maybe it’s a note problem? Are you sure where that note is on your instrument?
Is your technique the issue?
You might need to review how to make a good sound.
There is always a reason. When you diagnose the issue, you can identify the problem and fix it.
4. Divide your time as needed.
Put the time and energy where it is most needed.
If you understand rhythm but can’t recognize note names, spend more time learning the lines and spaces of the staff, and less on counting exercises. Quiz yourself, spend extra time here and learn it once and for all.
When you can’t play a song with the accompaniment tracks without mistakes, then you’re not ready to perform it at performance tempo. What’s the answer? Stop.
- Turn off the music track.
- Play the song slowly with a metronome.
- Find out what is causing your mistake.
- Isolate the problem, then practice it slowly and correctly.
- Gradually speed it up to performance tempo.
- When ready, play along with the music track.
Simply put – spend more time on hard stuff, less time on easy stuff.
It might sound crazy, but you get faster results with slow and accurate practice.
How long should you practice?
Length of practice isn’t the secret ingredient – quality of practice is.
When you get tired and cannot concentrate, stop. Nothing is accomplished when you’re just going through the motions.
5. Keep a record.
Learning how to practice music is a journey.
Writing down your goals and checking them off keeps you honest. It also helps you be realistic about what is possible.
It isn’t realistic to say “I’m going to read music in 2 days”.
It is realistic to say, “In 2 days, I will know the notes on the Treble Clef and be able to play quarter notes.” That is a realistic, reachable goal.
Learning How To Practice Music Isn’t a Race
HOWEVER… We all want results.
Keeping a record will speed up your progress.
“By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands—your own.” —Mark Victor Hansen
There is something powerful and effective in keeping track of your journey.
Take control of learning how to practice music. Write it down.
6. One step at a time.
There are 1000 things to learn – but you only need to learn the next one.
It’s just like learning your ABC’s:
- One letter at a time
- One sound at a time
- Put them together to form one simple word
- Put simple words together to form one single sentence
- Your vocabulary grows
- You learn at your own pace
When you “got it” – you have it forever
Learning how to practice music is the same.
7. End your practice time with something you know well.
Reward your work by ending with something fun.
Complete your routine with something you perform well. This way you will look forward to your next practice session.
If learning how to practice music doesn’t allow some care-free time, it’s probably too rigid. End with something you really enjoy.
We all need a plan to practice music effectively
Consequently, these seven steps should help:
- Schedule a regular time and place.
- Clarify the goal for each practice session.
- Define your problem area(s) clearly.
- Apply your time where it is most needed.
- Keep a written record.
- Be patient and build on one achievement at a time.
- End with something fun.
Just the Tip Of the Iceberg
This is only the beginning – basic tips to get a practice routine in place.
Hopefully, these steps will help your practice time deliver maximum results. Learning how to practice music is a big, beautiful, messy, frustrating and rewarding journey.
Have fun and count it in!