Practicing Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

By now, you’ve undoubtedly learned that there’s no substitute for consistent and focused practice. But what if no matter how much you’re practicing, the results never seem to last?

Here are some common practicing pitfalls and why these might be sabotaging your practicing efforts:

  • Not using a metronome. For the love of Mozart (feel free to insert your favorite composer here), use a metronome! If you’re not using a metronome, you have no barometer to measure your progress. Using a metronome will vastly improve your rhythmic accuracy and help you keep track of your improvement over time.
  • Playing things too fast too soon. Technique is built slowly and steadily (emphasis on the slowly). If you go too fast too soon, your muscles cannot develop the fine motor control necessary to execute passages with precision and you will not achieve lasting results.
  • Not doing enough repetitions. For every new passage, concept, technique, or other musical maneuver, make sure you are doing several dozen repetitions at various speeds so you can build the proper muscle memory. Your body needs lots of repetitions so it can accurately recreate the movements in the future.
  • Cram-practicing. It takes time to see and hear results, so do not expect to completely master a new piece of music in a day or two. Don’t be in a rush to finish a piece, and always write down practice notes (tempi, techniques, fingerings, etc) so you can pick up where you left off at your next practice session.
  • Ignoring the music. All too many students focus on the nuts and bolts of music – right notes and proper rhythms – while ignoring everything outside of the staff, such as dynamics, tempi, and other musical indications. You should begin incorporating the musical elements as soon as you begin learning a new piece.
  • Not practicing nuances. So you finally feel comfortable with the right notes and rhythms, but what about all the attacks, releases, intervals, and connections between notes and phrases? Sheer accuracy does not equate musicality, so make sure that you always play with a beautiful and smooth sound to enhance the music.
  • Not having a plan. Before you even open the case, it’s crucial to formulate some kind of practice plan so you can stay organized and methodical during your session. If you’re randomly moving from piece to piece, you aren’t maximizing your time. (For more advice on how to structure a practice routine, check out my Musician’s Practice Pyramid.)

I hope these tips help you turbocharge your practice routine. As always, happy practicing!


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