Practicing is hard work! And practicing is not usually fun. So why practice? Because it is the ONLY way to become a better musician. If being a better musician matters to you, practicing is a must! But don’t waste your time when you practice. Be smart about it. Follow these 5 tips for better practice.
Better Practice Tip #1 – FOCUS
You must focus while you are practicing if you want to be a better musician. Eliminate the distractions! Silence your phone, turn off the TV, retreat to a quiet space, and concentrate on practicing. You must be able to listen and think while you practice.
You can accomplish more in a short amount of time when you have a focused objective.
Better Practice Tip #2 – ISOLATE
Isolate the problem spots in your music and intensely work on those spots until you can play them correctly every time. Don’t spend your time just playing through a piece hoping that your errors self-correct. Not going to happen! Find the problem spots, identify the mistakes you are making, and correct them! This is efficient practicing!
Mistakes are . . . immensely useful. . . they show us . . . where we are right now and what we need to do next
Better Practice Tip #3 – RHYTHM
Learn to play all the rhythms in your music correctly. Music is more than just quarter notes and eighth notes. Conquer all those weird and tricky rhythm patterns! How? Mark the places in your music where the rhythm confuses you. Write out the counting if you need to. Clap the rhythm patterns to cement the correct pattern in your mind. Then, practice playing it slowly. Gradually work the passage up to tempo. If you need help, ask someone – your teacher, band director, orchestra conductor, another musician.
Be better than you were yesterday.
Better Practice Tip #4 – SLOW
Spend time practicing slowly! I cannot emphasize this enough. When you play up to tempo, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you are playing everything correctly, especially when you are playing in a group. But when you do slow practice, you can hear every section where you have troubles. Are your eighth notes uneven? Do you skip over some of the notes in a sixteenth note passage? Slow practice will make all those errors obvious – and then you will know exactly what you need to work on. Remember this: If you cannot play a passage well slowly, you will not play it well at a faster tempo. Slow practice points out all your deficiencies so you can correct them.
If you can play it slow, you can play it fast.
Better Practice Tip #5 – MUSICIANSHIP
Playing all the notes correctly and perfectly performing all the rhythm patterns does not make you a good musician. You may be good technically, but musicianship goes far beyond that! A good musician turns the notes on the page into art for the ears and transforms the score’s black and white into beautiful colors that speak to our hearts. So, practice the dynamic changes. Perfect the expressive elements of your music. Give every note a sense of direction. Pour passion into your music by practicing it that way. Give your music some love!
You practice and you get better. It’s very simple.
If you add these 5 smart strategies to your practicing routine, you will make your practice time more efficient, escalate your musical progress, and become a better musician. So, go for it! Go forth and practice!
For more information about practicing see the following articles:
What is the impact of a good music teacher? Can it be measured? All teachers have an impact on a student’s life. But I believe the relationship between a music teacher and a music student is unique. Music teachers have an incredible impact on the life of a student. Never underestimate that impact or the value of that connection.
I remember every private music teacher I ever had and all the ones my kids had. Each of those teachers had a different impact; each one was valuable in his own way to our musical advancement.
My Piano Teachers
The first piano teacher I ever had was my dad. While he was not an accomplished pianist, he knew enough to get me started on the piano and instill in me a love of good music. My dad started teaching me piano when I was six. We had an old, massive upright piano that he painted a pale pink. I used the old piano books he studied from when he was young. I may even still have a couple of those books!
My next piano teacher was a lady who lived across the street from my grade school when I was in 5th grade. One day a week, I would take my piano books to school, and after school, I would walk across the street to her house for piano lessons.
When I was in high school, I switched piano teachers. This new teacher challenged me to push myself harder, to tackle more challenging music. Under her teaching, I mastered the art of playing duple against triple rhythm. (eighth-notes in one hand, against triplet eighth-notes with the other hand). I think some people figure it out by feel, but not me. I had to use math to conquer this one! Common denominators and counting it all out. (Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, 3rd movement) I also remember her teaching me how to do glissandos. And scraping the skin off the back of some fingers in the process.
Mrs. Grubbe taught her lessons on an older upright piano in a small room in the back of her home. She always made me feel welcome. But when I was preparing for a competition or other special performance, she took me into her living room, walking across white carpeting (!) and allowed me to play my piece on her wonderful grand piano. I learned a lot about teaching piano from how she taught me.
My college piano teacher was wonderful. She was always calm and quiet but had a way of pushing me far beyond what I thought I could do. She understood about life sometimes conflicting with practicing, but she pushed me to practice in her own quiet way. And practice. And practice some more!
She mastered the art of reverse psychology, I think, and used that “against” me! I studied both flute and piano and had to decide which instrument to choose for my senior recital and major proficiency. At some point, she confronted me and told me I had to make a choice! And then, in her quiet way, she told me that I could do both, but that it would be very difficult. My choice was made. I did both. I appreciated Mrs. Barnes for the piano skills she taught me, for her role model as a wife, mother, and musician, and her sense of joy and humor.
As many children do, I started playing the flute in 5th grade, when beginning band was offered to any interested student. I don’t think it was a conscious decision on my part. It was more like my day telling me this is what you are doing, so choose an instrument.
My Flute Teachers
My first flute teacher was my beginning band instructor. I worked with him, primarily in group classes for at least the 5th and 6th grades. Perhaps even 7th and/or 8th grades because he did the middle school band as well. Mr. Hawes gave me a good foundation for my future flute-playing.
Sometime during middle school (I think), I took private lessons from a college student. My mom drove me 30-45 minutes one-way every other Saturday morning to get to these lessons. Maybe that is why these lessons, and this teacher, are a little vague in my memory! This is the only one of my teachers who I don’t clearly remember.
But then we found a teacher much closer to home, and I studied with him throughout high school. His house was on my way home from school, so I would stop in once a week for my lessons. I enjoyed working with him – a couple of his children were in band with me. One of my closest friends in high school also took lessons from him, which was great when it came time to work on duets for competitions!
I learned so much from Mr. Bolman – technique, tone production, musicianship. He worked with me through the challenge of flute-playing with braces. To this day, I remember him encouraging me to work through the awful tone quality I was hearing while trying to adjust to all the changes in my embouchure because of the braces. I can still hear him telling me that all the work I was doing to get a good sound with the braces would pay off in a big way when I got the braces off! And he was right. It just took me two years or more to get to that point!
And then there was college. My flute instructor in college was a gem. While he was not a proficient flute player himself, he understood the flute and what I needed to do to get the sound I wanted. And more than that, he understood music and musicality and musicianship! I loved my flute lessons with Dr. Budahl. From him, I learned how difficult it is to get through everything in a 30- minute lesson. Always too much music!
Dr. Budahl taught me so much more than music, though. He taught me about life, about priorities, about graciousness, and about loving God. I met him first at music camp when I was in high school. He was always cheerful, always working on music, always with a smile. And even though he is officially retired, he is still the same! When I have occasion to see him, his face still lights up with his smile. I am so thankful for his impact on my life.
My Children’s Music Teachers
I won’t list for you all my kids’ music teachers – we would be here far longer than you would like! But each one of them was perfect for them at the time. The cello teacher whose cello case was painted like a cow. He was a computer tech guy by day and was perfect for my techy son who was a reluctant cello student at the time. And his next cello teacher taught him to think about what he was playing and why he played it the way he did. (And who always served snacks at his recitals!) Thank you, Mr. Moore.
And our Russian violin teacher, the one who kept relocating further and further away from us, but was so worth the longer drive! Ada Ignatov inspired my girls to practice and devote themselves to the violin. And my sister Brenda, who started my girls on their violins/viola. Even though we only saw her a few times a year, she gave me ideas to work with them as they started.
And the brass teacher who suffered through the excruciating sounds of beginning trumpet and French horn students. My son and his French horn – starting out sounding more like an elephant with a bad cold blowing his nose. Joe Pluth, Dan Askins, Mr. Riffel – thanks so much!
Never Underestimate the Impact of a Music Teacher on your Student!
A Unique One-On-One Relationship
All teachers have an impact on the lives of their students. There is a different teacher-student dynamic because of the unique one-on-one relationship between a music teacher and his students. The connection is on a much more personal basis.
Music Teachers See and Relate to Real Struggles
Music teachers are mind readers. Not really, but since there is that special connection between music teachers and their students, music teachers are often much more sensitive to possible problems a student might be facing. Music is an art form, and as such, it can be very emotional. The emotional aspects of music allow teachers an insight into struggles a student may be facing. A good teacher can help a child face problems or situations, offer solutions, or direct them to someone who can give them the help they need. We are all good at hiding problems most of the time, but music sometimes allows them to surface.
Visibility of Vulnerabilities
We all have hidden vulnerabilities. Kids especially try to hide their deepest vulnerabilities. Music teachers can often pick up on those things and help students confront and overcome them.
Choose your children’s music teachers carefully – they will have a big impact on your child’s life. Let that impact be for the good of your child. Someday they will think back on their music teachers as I did for you earlier. What will they remember? What impact will that teacher have on your child?
Think back and remember your music teachers or your child’s music teachers. What do you remember most about them? What impact did they make on your life? Share your stories in the comments!
Check out some other articles about music teachers:
I’m curious – Have you made a Thanksgiving Day playlist? I have certain children that always try to sneak in some Christmas music sometime during the Thanksgiving week, but I tend to be more of a purist and save Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. (Day after Thanksgiving – Christmas music all the way!) So this year I decided to make a Thanksgiving Day playlist.
I wanted my playlist to be rather eclectic – a good mix of
classical, sacred, Americana, relaxing, enjoyable, etc. I thought about several
of my favorite recordings that would work, did a bit of searching for some new
ideas and suggestions, then sat down and tried to put it all together. Oh,
help! I ended up with quite the mix – and well over 9 hours of music!
This was a fun project! I discovered some new music, some new settings of old favorites. I could easily have included much more music, but decided I needed to stop at some point! Besides, I must finish my Thanksgiving dinner plans and start baking pies!
My Eclectic Thanksgiving Day Playlist
So what’s on my list? I won’t list everything out for you,
but I will give you some highlights/summary.
Frank Ticheli – I had forgotten how pretty his music sounds
Aaron Copeland – What’s not to like?
John Rutter – discovered his arrangement of Amazing Grace!
Bach – Suitable for most any occasion
Stephen Foster – Can’t get much more American than that!
Louis Moreaux Gottschalk – Just fun!
Several versions of Amazing Grace – including one with bagpipes
William Grant Still
Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – because, why not?! The last movement is so powerful! And his Choral Fantasy – same idea, much shorter.
Various hymn settings
And I keep thinking of other things I should have included
or forgot to include. Hmm…I could end up with enough music to keep me going
from now until the end of Thanksgiving Day! Or maybe I have better just stop!