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Trouble Practicing? Here Are Some Tips From SMT’s Teachers

Man playing guitar, woman with banjo

It doesn’t matter if you just started taking lessons or if you are a longtime instrumentalist—it can be difficult to sit down in front of your instrument for practice on a regular basis.

Believe it or not, music teachers experience the same problem. That’s why we reached out to our SMT teachers and asked them to give us their top tips on how you can use your time efficiently, how to stay motivated, and how to get yourself to practice regularly.

Woman playing cello

Carol Anne Bosco

Let’s Start Small: Here Are Three Short and Simple Practice Tips From Carol Anne Bosco (cello and piano)

  1. When in doubt, sing it out. No matter what instrument you play, singing the rep helps your ability to listen and improve your sound.
  2. Better to practice a short while every day than one long session per week.
  3. Take small bits and repeat, repeat, REPEAT!

Seth Kibel

Now, Let’s Take a Deeper Dive into Your Practice Habits With Three More Tips From Seth Kibel (flute, saxophone, and clarinet)

  1. PRACTICE IN CHUNKS! Get creative in how you practice. Don’t just start at the beginning of a song/exercise/etude and futz your way to the end. Spend LOTS more time on the parts that are giving you trouble. If the hardest lick is 3 measures from the end, you’re just wasting time by starting at the beginning every time. Practice one phrase at a time, two phrases at a time, etc.
  2. ALWAYS PLAY THINGS AS SLOW AS YOU NEED TO NAIL IT! Don’t get me wrong—I’m the king of “louder, higher, faster.” I LOVE it when students come to a lesson and play something for me lightning fast—but if you’re playing it fast with lots of goofs and clams, then you’re not actually learning it. Remember—every time you play something correctly, you’re making progress, regardless of the tempo. Every time you play something with mistakes… well, that’s just a wasted opportunity. So start as slow as you need to, and only when you’re acing it do you start to increase the tempo, and with enough practice, you’ll be playing like I do after a triple espresso.
  3. NEVER MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE. Be on the lookout for this. If you find yourself making the same mistake, in the same way more than once, STOP! CODE RED! You’ve got to address that immediately. ‘Cause when you play the same mistake repeatedly, you’re actually PRACTICING that mistake—and every time you make that mistake, it’s gonna be that much harder to eventually fix. So if you hear yourself make the same mistake twice, make sure that, at ALL COSTS, you don’t repeat that mistake the next time. Even if that means you mess something else up. I always tell my students that it’d be better to make a new and different mistake every time then to make the same mistake over and over.
Jonathan Vocke Portrait

Jonathan Vocke

Finally, Let’s Go to Jonathan Vocke (banjo, guitar, violin/fiddle, mandolin, ukulele) for Our Final Neat, Bullet-Pointed List of Good Habits!

1) Know what you’re going to practice. Make a short list of 3-4 items to focus on for the week, this way you don’t waste time when you sit down
2) Focus on rhythm. Notes without a sense of time is just noise. Use a metronome and you’ll learn a ton. Start off slow and for only a little of your practice time. It’s difficult and often humbling to play with a metronome so start with just 5 minutes and work your way up.
3) Download an ear training app like Earpeggio or Relative Solfedge so you can improve your ear whenever you don’t have your instrument.
3) Keep a practice journal where—each practice—you write down what you’re going to work on, what you worked on, how it went, and what you noticed. You can write down problems that you don’t have a solution for, and often times, these issues simply resolve themselves after you revisit the problem a few sleep cycles.
4) When practicing a passage, count yourself in. This makes sure that you are starting in the right place rhythmically.
5) Be gentle with yourself. Deliberate practice is difficult and takes energy so don’t expect to have a ton of endurance and focus with it when you start.
6) Congratulate yourself on your successes. Write it down! Say “Good job today, it feels a bit easier than yesterday.” Literally write it down and say it out loud. The most important aspect of practicing is being motivated to practice in the first place. Seeing and acknowledging growth is very motivating and will help you return to practice day in and day out.
7) Listen to musicians who you want to sound like. This gives you something to strive for and can help you get more creative on your instrument.

Got some good practice times of your own? Tell us about them in the comments below—or reach out to us on Facebook or Instagram!