It’s easy to pick up an instrument. You’ve watched your favorite guitarist, vocalist, or band onstage and you get a crazy idea in your head..
“I’m going to do that.”
It’s harder to actually learn that instrument. You have to dedicate hours, days, and sometimes years to developing your skills. If you’re playing guitar or piano or any instrument for the first time, your hands are most likely doing things they’ve never had to do before! Barre chords? Hammer ons? Pull offs? Solfege? Pentatonic scales and time signatures? m7b5? That last one just looks like letters and numbers stuck together! What does it all mean, and most importantly, when will I make time to learn all this stuff while balancing my everyday life?
Never fear, intrepid starting musicians. We’ve got a plan for how to practice, and it’s presented in list format so you can skip the cheesy introductory paragraph!
1. Establish Practice Days
This one is self explanatory, and not too hard to understand, so let’s get it out of the way. Everyone has a life outside of learning to play an instrument. Even people who play instruments for a living want to do more than tickle those ivories all day. In a perfect world, practicing your craft each day makes you good at it.
Unfortunately (especially during a pandemic), not everyone can afford to do that. Think about the time you have available, and then choose at least three days out of your week (at first, this number should increase) to practice. Planning and committing to ‘music days’ will give you a tangible view of what you can accomplish.
If Monday is laundry day, you know that those delicates are getting washed. If Tuesday is guitar day, you know those strings are getting shredded.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should create a dedicated time slot in your day for practicing as well. Carve out an hour, and get to it. With those two or three hours a week, and fifteen minutes on ‘non-practice days,’ you should see some progress sooner than later!
2. Focused Practice
This is a big one. It’s important not to try and cram everything at once into one practice.
Have you been having trouble understanding scales and the major key? Take the first half of your time to dig into those and practice the scales giving you trouble.
Playing classical guitar and can’t figure out how to nail down “Moonlight Sonata?” Looks like this practice is going to be a “Moonlight Sonata” day.
As a further note about focused practice, we’ll look at “Moonlight Sonata” as an example. Let’s say that the first two measures of the song are really difficult to nail down for you. Maybe the rest of the piece comes quite easily but boy oh boy, those first two measures are really just the worst.
Play those measures back and forth, back to back. You’ll know the difference when you’ve finally got them down and are playing them properly. Focus on hand position, how you’re approaching the chords, and which fingers you’re using to play the notes if you’re on guitar. Tackle that part and focus in on it before heading into the easier, more fun to play part of the song.
This leads into our next point..
3. Do The Hard Stuff First
It becomes all too easy to sit down in front of your instrument, play the same songs you’ve learned months ago, and call that the end of practice. The definition of the word practice is; “[to] perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.”
The words in that definition would have one believe that doing the same thing each time you practice is the perfect way to do it, and that’s well and good, as long as you’re not avoiding the challenging parts. As a music instructor, it warms my heart to sit down for a lesson and find out that the student has more questions about a challenging part in a song, or a music theory concept that they’ve worked on during our time apart.
I think it was in high school that my chorus teacher told me, “make a mistake loud enough for everyone to hear.” If you find yourself making mistakes on songs that are quite hard for you to play, then keep going at them!
The point of practice, in many opinions, is to make mistakes. Practice is the safe place to mess up and start over until you get things right. Don’t shy away from the hard songs or parts just because you want a ‘perfect practice.’ Do the hard stuff first.
4. Music Theory! (It’s not as terrifying as you think)
Seriously, it isn’t. Perfunctory usage of mnemonic devices, ‘Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie” or “Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bacon” and a basic understanding of scales, and you’re already on your way to understanding those concepts that may have seemed impossible to wrap your head around at first. Also, it’s imperative to reach out to your instructors with questions whenever they arise.
I happen to work as a Bold Music instructor, and that’s helped me to meet many other cool music instructors, and I’ve never met one who didn’t want students to text, email, or call with questions regarding music theory. Over the years, I’ve probably forgotten more theory than I’ve learned, so one of my favorite things is for students to ask something along the lines of ‘what’s the point of an add9 chord?” It reawakens a part of my mind that I just hadn’t put much thought to it in a while.
Shying away from theory or trying to skirt harder concepts (which is basically skipping steps) will truly only hurt you in the long run of your burgeoning music career.
So reach out to your instructors – I say with confidence that we’re here to help figure all this out together! And make sure to check out our guitar lessons.