It doesn’t matter if you just started taking lessons or if you’re 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 for their top tips on how you can use your time efficiently, how to stay motivated, and how to get yourself to practice regularly.
We published the first collection of teacher practice tips last month—so now, get ready for part two!
Short and Simple: Here are 3 Basic Practice Tips From Marta Samuel (violin/fiddle, viola, piano)
1. Practice consistently and focus on the basics.
2. Do a simple finger warm-up exercise at the beginning of each practice to get yourself ready.
3. Name the notes in your head or sing them out loud as you practice scales.
Now Let’s Do a Deep Dive With Some Tips From Luke Chohany (bass, guitar, mandolin, ukulele)
1. Practice when you don’t have an instrument
Listen to a playlist of music that you would like to learn—and listen to it as much as you can. It is much quicker and easier to learn a song that is already in your memory.
Sing along with music whenever you can. It keeps your attention engaged so you can absorb the musical information on a deeper level than you would if you weren’t paying attention.
3. Sing More
Sing things before you play them. Contrary to your instrument, you are already a master of your voice (even if you don’t think you are) just by virtue of your ability to speak. Sing a piece of the melody or rhythm you are trying to learn and then try to play it on your instrument. Alternate back and forth during your practice. Let the natural ability of your voice teach you how to play an instrument with call and response.
4. Learn all the major scales and major arpeggios
Want the most bang for your buck? There are a million-billion things you could learn, but the major scales and major arpeggios have very universal and practical applications!
5. Make every movement feel good
Playing music can—and should—feel good; it should never hurt and you should never feel stiff. You will be stiff at some point, of course, but your goal is to be aware of that and make every movement as effortless and efficient as possible. That means you have to make this a priority over accomplishing the thing you are trying to accomplish and have the attention and focus to notice how your body feels. Children have this as a natural virtue, but adults usually don’t. If you are an adult and you aren’t already a virtuoso, spending time on this is invaluable for increasing your technique, avoiding injuries, and enjoying your playing.
6. Practice some of the same things every day
Have something you practice every day like a scale, exercise, or song—but don’t just go through the motions of its performance. You could play exactly the same thing every day and still progress with things like tone and rhythm; or you could come up with variations for the task, like changing the key of the song or exercise. The goal of this exercise is to learn something new about whatever it is you are playing, or continue to improve in some way.
7. Lean into the difficult things
When you happen across a difficult part of a song or task, notice it, slow down, and spend extra time on it, rather than trying to avoid it or get through it quickly. It’s probably challenging because it uses materials you haven’t worked on before—so spending extra time on the task will ensure you are learning new things. In the future, tasks that share a similar degree of difficulty will become much, much easier.
8. Don’t look at your phone or computer and if you are using it to practice, stay focused on one thing
9. Play with other people
Playing with others is one of the best ways to improve and stay inspired. Find some jams you can attend or friends who you can play with—whether it’s over Zoom or in a socially distanced space.
Finally, Let’s Round Out Our Musical Homework With Some Advice From Ethan Foote (bass, cello, guitar)
1. When you’re working on a particular piece, focus on one thing at a time (e.g. tempo, dynamics, expression, technique) and play through the piece with special attention to whatever aspects need it. Then integrate these different aspects one-by-one until you can play the piece with equal attention to all of its elements at once.
2. Sometimes, things that seem like they should be easy are actually very challenging—whether it’s a particular passage in a piece, a certain technique, or a sound you’re trying to get out of your instrument. Instead of dwelling on how this thing should be easy, which will just make you more frustrated, try to acknowledge that it’s difficult, and give it the focused attention it needs. You’ll use your practice time much more efficiently that way!
3. For double bass specifically: It’s okay to get tired from practicing a lot, but it’s important to know the difference between being tired and being in pain. The former is about your overall energy level, whereas the latter has to do with a part (or parts) of your body feeling bad in a particular way. If something hurts—especially if it hurts repeatedly—make a note of it and tell your teacher so they can work with you to figure out what adjustments can be made so you no longer experience pain while you play.