Here are some quick practice tips on how to make your instrumental
(or vocal) playing better, no matter what instrument you play.
- Use a metronome!! - I can't stress this one enough. When you play
anything by yourself, your rhythm doesn't have to be as perfect as when
you are playing with other people, so it tends to slack off a little.
Use a metronome to keep everything dialed in. **They can also be used to
help you increase your speed!**
- Time Boxing - Only practice certain things for a certain amount
of time. If you're doing scales, only do scales for 15 minutes or so,
then MOVE ON!! This keeps you from getting bogged down in certain things
too long. If you spend too much time on one thing, you're neglecting
other things. Keep it balanced.
- Always warm up
- This will help you get off to a better start. Run over a few scales
or arpeggios, or make up your own exercises like I do, just something to
get your fingers (or voice) moving around. If you launch right into a
song, you will tend to ignore technique. Focus on that first, and your
whole practice will go better.
- Mental Quizzes - Think about scales or arpeggios or modes etc.
when you are doing everyday activities such as standing in line at the
bank, doing dishes, or driving to work. Pick a time when your mind is
not doing anything else, and use it to work on your theory knowledge!
Quizzing yourself can be fun and challenging.
- 50-Minute Hours - Wearing yourself out at practice is never a
good thing. Some people say they practice for 4 hours straight, and
maybe they do, but it's certainly not good practice. After a
certain amount of time, your brain gets tired and needs a rest (as well
as your fingers!) If you do want to practice for hours on end, shoot for
50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break, even if you don't think you
need it. By practicing with these 50 minute hours, you can practice more
efficiently for longer and not be totally worn out. Keep in mind that
you can apply the same idea to any amount of time: 25 minutes then a 5
minute break etc. Just do what feels right for you, but don't wear
- Sloooow Dooown - Most people play things way too fast either
because it's more fun, or because they think they will learn a greater
amount of things in a shorter amount of time. However this is usually
not the case. Slow it down! If you play everything slower, your timing
and technique improve. Most people just blow off this practice tip.
Don't make that mistake! It may not be obvious at first, but I guarantee
that after a week of practicing everything slower, you will notice a
huge difference in your playing.
- Practice Things in Pieces - When you’re working on a new or difficult piece of music, don’t try to tackle the whole thing at once. Some people think that if they play through the whole song enough times that it will get better. It will. But it will take ten years. Do this instead. Take one section of the song (verse, chorus, guitar solo). Now break that section into about 4 pieces. Now just practice one of those 4 pieces. When you get that down, go on to the next one. After you have several of them perfect, start putting them together. You will find that by doing this you actually save a lot of time and frustration, and you actually learn it with more confidence as well.
- Play Things in Odd Keys - This practice tip is for everyone, but especially string players. When you play things in keys that you aren't used to, a couple of different things happen. First, you end up using notes that you don't use most of the time, so you inevitably end up getting better on your instrument because you're branching out and building skill outside of your comfort zone. Something else happens for string players though. When you are forced to play notes you're not used to, you have to pay close attention to the notes you are playing so that you will play them in tune. When you do this, you are training your ear to focus more closely on the pitch of the notes. The more you do this, the more your ear will get in the habit of listening more closely to notes in general. This means that when you go back to playing in keys that you ARE familiar with, you will be able to hear the notes EVEN BETTER. Win, win.
- Practice Playing at Different Volumes - This is more of an intermediate or advanced practice tip, but it's one that beginners can get an early start on too, and one that can really make your playing sound SUPER sophisticated. Some people practice this already; if so, good for you! If not, here's a secret weapon for you! Basically, this involves just getting used to playing things at different dynamic levels.
- Take one song and play the whole thing as quietly as you possibly can and really get into the feeling of playing super quiet and subdued.
- Then take the same song and play the whole thing as loud as you possibly can, and really get into the feeling of playing with a grand, powerful tone.
- Then play the song again but really listen and feel for places that seem like they should be louder or quieter, and change your dynamics accordingly.
This will do two things for you: it will dramatically increase your control over your instrument, and it will give you greater insight and awareness of the music you are playing so you can play it with more passion and excitement. This is one of the main differences in the musicians you listen to who are just ok, and the ones who really rock!
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