How to Practice Your Musical Instrument

David suggested I write up a little something on practice habits. It just so happens that students at our music school receive a booklet I put together called “How to Practice Your Musical Instrument”. Since we teach a lot of different instruments, not everything in it applies to the guitar… but I thought I’d pick through it for some tips you might find useful.

Practicing frequently (several times a day for just a few minutes at a time) will produce better results than practicing for a long time every few days.

It’s not how much time you put in; it’s how much you put into your time. Focused practice can accomplish a lot efficiently – but wiggling your fingers around while your mind drifts really isn’t practicing!

If you practice as early as you can – even right after you get up in the morning – you won’t be as likely to miss any practice sessions. And if you feel like it, you can always get in an extra practice session later on in the day.

The ability to play an instrument builds one skill on top of others. Make sure you get the fundamentals right.

Review should be part of your practice routine. When you learned to read, you probably had a favorite book you read hundreds of times – learning to read music takes the same kind of review.

Try to practice for a few minutes right after a lesson – it will help you remember little details.

Muscle memory is developed through repetition. An amateur practices until they get it right; a professional practices until they never get it wrong!

Try to sing what you play. It will help you develop your ear and improve the results you get from practicing.

The first time you play a piece, keep a pencil handy. Mark the spots you have trouble with – those are the ones you should put the most practice time into!

Break complex passages down into smaller bites and work through each one before trying to put the whole thing together.

There’s a difference between practicing and rehearsing, and between practicing and playing. Approach each session understanding what your purpose is.

There is a best time of the day to practice, but it depends on you. Pay attention to the results you get at different times of the day, and try to practice during your most productive times.

Practice slowly enough so you’re not making any mistakes. Practice doesn’t make perfect – practice makes permanent – so don’t waste your time practicing mistakes!

Tom (“Noteboat”) Serb is a longtime Guitar Noise contributor and founder of the Midwest Music Academy in Plainfield, Illinois. This advice first appeared in Volume 4 # 1 of Guitar Noise News. Sign-up for our newsletter to receive more free tips like this by email.

© 2011, Tom Serb