How to Practice

Music has so many elements to learn – Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Form, Dynamics, Tone, Expression, Styles, etc… it can seem like a life-long study that will never be finished.

Getting Started

Don’t be overwhelmed; you can’t possibly learn it all. But step-by-step you
can learn what you need.

No matter what new skill you want to learn – art, basketball, cooking or fashion design – there are professionals that do it quite well. They have paid their dues, learned all they could, asked questions and kept going even when they failed.

Eventually, with enough practice, practice and more practice, they improved their level of skill. It didn’t happen overnight. They all started where you are right now… at the beginning.

To improve, you must learn how to practice.

Learning to practice correctly is very important. Ask any professional musician – developing good practice habits takes time, dedication and sacrifice.

Before we look at how to practice, 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.

So what is Practicing?

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.
This is why “How To Read Music: See it, Say it, Play it” always breaks it down to the BASIC ELEMENTS of reading music:
This way, you never have to ask, “What do I practice?”

You always practice the Basic Elements.

A professional musician will work on these elements when they practice, no
matter how old or skilled they are. So will you.

I’ll help you learn the basic elements individually, then collectively. The play-along SONGS give you the opportunity to put it all together. You always work toward the big goal – learning to read music. But you tackle it in bite-sized pieces.

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.

Reading music is the ultimate form of multi-tasking.

You are continually making small decisions, listening to yourself, listening to the other musicians, recognizing rhythms and their sub-divisions, recognizing notes on the staff, making volume choices with dynamics, understanding musical terms, form and more.

And all of this is happening simultaneously.

By breaking it down to the individual basic elements of music reading – Rhythm, Pitch, Technique, Tone, Terms and then practicing the elements in Songs… you don’t get overwhelmed with too much too soon.

Do you know how to Maximize your practice results?

We all learn differently, but here are 6 techniques to help get faster results for your time and energy.

1. Determine a time each day to practice.
Don’t think you’ll get to it when it’s convenient – it may not ever be convenient. Decide when it will happen and also how long you will practice.

Example: Monday through Friday at 5:30 pm for 30 minutes.
Or, if you are a morning person – Every morning from 7:00am until 7:45am.
Make it a priority and do it.
Also, decide on a cut-off time – it helps you focus. You won’t fool around thinking “I’ll practice this some, have some coffee, do a little of this, watch TV, play this exercise a bit, and do it later… etc.”

There is a reason athletic teams meet every day at the same place, same time, same days with the same drills and goals.

2. Read everything carefully.

It is so easy to be in a hurry and miss important details. Sometimes, those little details are the whole reason for the lesson or exercise.
You might get away with it for a while, but then 6 – 7 pages later you have a problem…

  • “What is that note?”
  • “How do you count that rhythm?”
  • “What does that word mean?”OOPS!
    Then, you have to go back and find your breakdown. It wastes time and energy and gets you frustrated. Not good.
    Since this is a do-it-yourself approach, do-yourself-a-favor and read all the information. You’ll be glad in the long run.

3. Set goals that are clear and measurable.

Let’s imagine that you’ve just played song #4 March!
If you can play it perfectly, without mistakes…great! You’re ready to continue.
But, what if you are making mistakes? What do you do?


Musical mistakes are always from weakness in one or more of the BASIC ELEMENTS.

Is it a Rhythm problem – do you understand the notes and rests?
Is it 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.

Is it a Pitch/Note problem? Maybe you aren’t sure how to play third line B.

Musical mistakes are always caused by weakness in one or more of the BASIC ELEMENTS.

Is it a technique/tone problem?

You might need to review how to make a good sound on the recorder and practice making long, clean tones. Squeaks and shrill sounds are no fun. There is always a reason.
As you identify a problem area, you can then adjust your goals.

4. Divide your time as needed.

This is probably the most important key for successful practice:

Put the time and energy where it is most needed.

If you understand note values but can’t remember the names of the notes on the staff, spend some extra time drilling yourself and less on counting.

If you can’t remember what a time signature is, find all the material you can
in the course and on the  website for extra help.

Simply put – spend more time on hard stuff, less time on easy stuff. As you progress, you may find the need to simplify your goals. It is OK to change goals.

You will learn how much material you can cover in a single practice.

You will have to determine how much time you can put into this (15 minutesa day, 30, 45, etc.) and how to best divide your time. This is why “How to Read Music: See it, Say it, Play it” is a powerful and effective way to learn about music. You do not have to spend an hour or two in a classroom every day.

Put the time and energy where it is most needed.

Obviously if you have 2 hours a day to practice, you should progress faster than someone with 15 minutes a day. But you both can reach your goals.
One of my daughters likes to learn songs on the piano in 10-minute sessions. She does about 3-5 a day. That adds up.

Divide your time intelligently and you will reach your goals.

What’s the best way to keep track of your progress?

5. Use good record keeping.

This is your personal music journal. You can look back and see your progress AND the trouble spots. All of it is important.
The huge benefit of writing it down is you will develop realistic
expectations for yourself.
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.”

Be honest, use your metronome, check your speed and mark your progress EVERY TIME. This is how you improve.

And last but not least…

6. End your practice time with something you play well.

Reward your hard work by playing something fun and easy. You will remember it and look forward to your next practice.
Well, that about covers it. Hopefully, these tips will help your practice time deliver maximum results.

Here is a short summary of all the points I’ve mentioned. It may be helpful to print it and re-read it before you begin.

  1. Start/Stop – Dedicate a time and place for practice. Winning athletic teams
    meet in the same place and time every day. You can too.
  2. Read – Carefully read everything. Don’t just look at the graphics & pix. The
    instructions will help you get the best results for your time.
  3. Set Goals – Write down clear, measurable goals. For example, “Today, I will
    play COUNTING LESSON #3 at 120 bpms with no mistakes.”
  4. Time – Divide your time among the BASIC ELEMENTS. Spend more time on
    your weak areas. Always review what you learned yesterday.
  5. Record – Write down your goals and progress. Be honest. If you are making
    mistakes, slow down. Record-keeping will maximize your practice.
  6. Positive – End your practice with something you can play well. You will look
    forward to the next practice and get better, faster results.

Don’t forget to use your practice routine chart.