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Effective Instrument Practice Tips

Effective Instrument Practice Tips

By Felix Jacobsen

Has a piece ever left you frustrated despite working hard to learn it, or you can’t get the melody right even though you’ve put the time in?  Don’t worry, your effort hasn’t been wasted!  Keep at it with these helpful tips to ensure that you achieve effective practices every time!

Warm Up Properly

You might be eager to jump right into that Bach cello suite, but wait!  Make sure you tune your instrument to a true A before checking and tuning the rest of your strings accordingly.  Here’s an insider exclusive:  if the piece you're playing is in C major, then it would be a great idea to play the C major scale to prepare yourself!  Playing scales in the keys of the pieces helps to get immersed in practicing and prepares you for what you’re about to play.

Use a Tuner While Playing

Once you tune your instrument at the beginning of your practice session, don’t be quick to put it away!  In college, I was practicing a difficult passage with one of my professors in preparation for a chamber orchestra concert we were in at the end of the semester.  She noticed that I was struggling to land the notes with precision, so she left her tuner on the stand and told me to watch it as I played the passage and adjust my pitches accordingly.  It made me very conscious of how I was placing my fingers on the fingerboard and how I was shaping my vibrato to each note I played, which helped improve my intonation drastically.

Practice the Specific Parts that are Difficult

It may be tempting to play the entire piece over and over again, because it’s fun, right?  However, a better use of your time and effort would be to focus on the parts that are giving you trouble!  It may feel nice to play through the parts you know, but nothing is more satisfying than being able to learn the parts you don’t know.  Even if it is just a measure that you struggle with, practice that measure over and over again.  It may seem tedious, but start practicing these difficult parts slowly, and once you are comfortable playing the notes correctly, you can work on getting used to playing it faster and faster until you are at concert tempo.

Have a Metronome Handy

I know that the constant repetitive noise can be a bit irritating to some, but metronomes are truly lifesavers in practice sessions!  A metronome will keep you on beat and make sure you are playing every note in time, which is great if you are struggling with learning certain rhythms or maintaining a specific tempo.  It will help you to get a feel for the timing and placement of the notes you need to play, which is essential to ace your performances.

Record Yourself Playing

It can be embarrassing to hear yourself play your instrument, but it is also a great practice method!  It is sometimes hard to know whether or not we mess something up while we are playing it, so recording yourself allows you to assess your performance and determine what you need to work on.  It gives you insight on things to fix that you may not have noticed without a recording.

Watch Videos of Other Musicians

In a similar strain to my last tip, while it may seem intimidating, I recommend watching videos of other musicians performing the pieces you are practicing!  On YouTube, there are many videos of musicians and ensembles performing pieces, which can give you inspiration for your own performance and ideas for what to try in your own practice sessions.

Takes Notes in Your Sheet Music

Make sure you don’t lose your pencil, because you’re going to need it!  Taking notes is a great way to keep track of the stylistic changes that happen to a piece during a lesson or rehearsal.  It is also a great idea to take some time out of your practice session to look through your sheet music and mark down the parts that give you trouble– circle those troublesome accidentals, or write down where the repeat signs lead to.

Take Some Breaks

One of the most important tips I can give to any musician is that it’s okay to take a break if you need it!  If you are feeling tired, it’s alright to put down your instrument and get a drink of water.  If you are frustrated with practicing, it’s okay to stop for a bit.  It is difficult to keep learning and practicing on your instrument if you’re tired and frustrated, so it’s fine to take some time to yourself!

You’ve Got This!

Now that you’re equipped with all of my practice tips, it’s time to put them to use.  Grab your instrument, rosin your bow, and you’re all set.  I’m rooting for you, and happy practicing!

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