How do you get better at things that take time and effort, like playing an instrument for example?
If you want to learn guitar, piano, trombone, or another instrument, there are plenty of resources out there to help you get started. However, if you want to become truly great at your instrument, you need to put in the extra time and effort.
There is no substitute for practicing every day, especially when you first start learning. The more you practice, the better you'll become.
This article focuses on learning to play an instrument but many of the same principles can be applied to other skills like dancing, cooking, speaking another language, etc.
Practicing is an essential part of learning anything. It helps you build muscle memory and get better at whatever it is you're trying to learn.
There's a difference between "practicing" and "studying." Studying means reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, etc. Practicing means putting those skills into action.
You can study all day long, but you won't improve if you never put your knowledge into practice.
Practice Makes Perfect
The best way to become good at any skill is by doing the thing over and over again until you've mastered it.
Start slowly with simple tasks first, and work up from there.
There are many theories about how many hours you need to practice a certain skill before you master it.
Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" popularized the 10,000-hour rule, but other studies have shown that this number may not apply to everyone.
In fact, some people who spend less than ten thousand hours on their craft will still achieve mastery while others who spend more than 100,000 hours will likely fail.
I'm sure we could debate endlessly about which theory applies most accurately to us as individuals.
However, I think the point here is that no matter the exact amount of time required to reach proficiency, the key takeaway message is that practice makes perfect.
What does Practice Mean?
When someone says they practiced piano today, what exactly did they mean?
Did they sit down at the keyboard and pound out scales for 30 minutes straight?
Or maybe they played through a few songs without stopping?
Maybe they listened to a recording of themselves playing, so they could hear where they needed improvement?
It doesn't really matter what kind of practice you use because ultimately it comes down to two things: frequency and intensity. Frequency refers to how often you perform the task (e.g., every day), whereas intensity refers to how hard you push yourself during each session.
Frequency matters when it comes to building muscle memory. Muscles don't know if you're going to hit them tomorrow or next week; they only respond based on how much force you exert right now. S
o the longer you wait to exercise, the weaker your muscles become. This is why athletes train multiple times per day.
Start With the Basics
If you're new to practicing, start small.
Pick a single aspect of your playing that needs improving -- say, your sound -- and focus solely on that. Don't worry about everything else yet. Just concentrate on your sound and nothing else. Then gradually add new topics to focus on.
As you gain experience, you'll find that you naturally gravitate toward areas of weakness.
“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise."Michael Jordan
Build From There
If you want to play faster, pick a song that has lots of notes and slow it down. It might feel awkward at first but stick with it. The goal isn't perfection, it's progress.
I would suggest getting a metronome. I like to use a real metronome instead of an app, but that's a personal preference.
As soon as you notice that you're getting frustrated, stop. Take a break and come back later.
Then try another part of your technique and repeat the process.
Learn by Doing
Learning new skills requires lots of trial-and-error experimentation. There are no shortcuts here - only hard work. So don't expect to master a subject overnight. Instead, focus on building up small successes every single day. Then gradually add more difficult tasks as you gain experience with each task.
This approach will help you avoid becoming discouraged when you fail because you know there's always tomorrow to try again.
Don't Be Afraid To Fail
The best way to learn any skill is to do it over and over until you get better. But this can be scary.
If you've never tried before, you may fear making mistakes and being embarrassed in front of other people. You may also have trouble seeing past these fears into the future and imagining yourself succeeding.
But failure shouldn't scare you off from trying again. Remember that everyone fails sometimes.
You should develop your own practice routine with the above in mind.
I recommend using some sort of timer/stopwatch to keep track of time spent working on various aspects of your playing.
For example, for each practice session, you might set aside 10 minutes for warm-up exercises, 20 minutes for scales, 30 minutes for sight-reading, etc.
Once you reach the end of one block, take 5 minutes to cool down and relax.
Also, remember that practice doesn't need to last forever. In fact, most experts agree that short sessions spaced out throughout the day are far superior to long ones all crammed together.
Turn off your computer and put your phone in airplane mode.
If you leave your phone and computer at arm's reach during practice sessions, they can be a distraction. If you put them where you can't see or hear notifications, you won't be tempted to stop practicing to reply to a message "real quick" and end up in a distraction rabbit hole.
Get regular feedback
Ask someone who knows what they're talking about to give you honest feedback about your performance. This person could be a friend, family member, music instructor, private tutor, or professional musician.
They'll be able to tell you which areas of your playing require improvement and provide suggestions for improving those weak points.
Practice With Others
It helps to practice alongside others, so you can observe their techniques and compare yours against theirs. For instance, you could ask a fellow student to accompany you while you practice a piece. It is also highly motivating to play with other people.
Playing along with another player will also force you to pay attention to intonation, timing, and rhythm.
As scary as it sounds, recording yourself playing can actually improve your skills by helping you identify weaknesses and strengths.
The process of listening back to your recordings can reveal things like:
- Where you tend to lose concentration
- What parts of your technique need attention
- Which sections sound good but aren't quite right
- Any awkward phrasing or timing issues
If you are unable to practice, for any reason, try to visualize playing your instrument instead. Studies have shown that thinking about a particular motion or action will trigger the same neurons in your brain as if you were actually doing them. You can literally practice anywhere; on the bus, waiting in line, etc.
There are many ways to approach learning new material. The best way depends entirely upon your goals, interests, and personality.
I hope this guide has helped you find a method that works well for you!
Good luck! 🙂