I’ve come up with some of these tips through my own practice, or through learning from some of the amazing musicians I have met and worked with over the years. They should help anyone who is learning any instrument, although a few of these work better on certain instruments. Music is a language of creative expression, so these tips have helped me develop the vocabulary and grammar I need to express myself creatively on any instrument I choose to play. In fact, I think following these tips has allowed me to learn as well as I have any time I’ve picked up a new instrument.
9. Transcribe what you are practicing.
Use any notation that works for you, even one that you make up as you go along. This helps you focus on each note that you are learning. As you transcribe each note, you’re forced to analyze it, as well as its relationship with other notes played before it, after it, and simultaneously with it. When you go back to playing the part, you’ve already practiced it in your head at a slower pace and have mentally worked out any potential trouble spots.
10. Ask yourself before you practice, “Why am I practicing?”
By answering this question, it sets up your brain to focus on a specific thing to practice on. Ask this of yourself each time you sit down to practice. Sometimes your answer will be “to work on my left/right hand coordination”, sometimes it will be “because I have the recital coming up and just have to get through all these pieces as many times as I can before then!!” Whatever the reason, it’s rarely productive to practice without a purpose. In my experience, the times I’ve practiced “just because” have usually left me feeling like I didn’t practice at all, or worse, made me feel like what I did play, I played worse than usual.
11. Record yourself.
Even after 35 years of playing, I still hear timing issues that I thought I nailed when I listen back to recordings of my practices. Playing along with backing tracks or full songs lets you focus more on the notes and frees up some attention from keeping in time, but it’s hard to analyze your own performance while your concentration is on your playing. Recording your practice lets you hear your playing objectively, and you end up able to identify trouble spots more easily. Sometimes you’ll hear that funky rhythm part you thought was right in the pocket speed up by 10bpm by the time you get to the end of the 4th measure. Other times you learn you were actually playing a few dotted 16th notes instead of 8th notes. And passing notes work unless you choose the wrong one.
12. Practice in complete darkness.
I once met someone who told me when they began to play guitar, their father shut them into a windowless room with the lights out and told them they weren’t allowed to leave until they could play a song right. While this may seem a little extreme ( and kinda creepy!), the guitarist pointed out that they learned to play without constantly looking at where their fingers were on the fretboard. Being able to play without always staring at your hands is a valuable skill to have, as it can be very helpful to occasionally look at other things like, oh… maybe sheet music or the audience…?
Stay tuned for more great tips!