Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?
The bad news is that even if you’ve mustered up the motivation to practice, you might still be losing out on those practice session gains if you’re not practicing effectively.
The good news is that I’m here today to share 10 of the most common mistakes I’ve seen musicians make in the practice room which can hinder their progress.
Quality of practice is always more important than quantity, so here are 10 suggestions to improve your practice room progress:
- Turn off your phone or set it to do not disturb mode. Let’s be honest here – how many times have you interrupted your practice session to scroll through Instagram, check your email, or get sucked into the enticing world of smartphones? It’s important to keep your phone off while you practice so you can maintain focus. I realize that many musicians use tuning and metronome apps on their phones, so just be sure to set your phone to do not disturb or airplane mode so you can focus without the constant notifications.
- Make sure you develop a proper warm-up routine. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always done this in my own practice. It was only after suffering from a repetitive strain injury that I realized how important it is for your mind and body to develop a well-rounded warm-up routine. Each warm-up routine will look different for each musician, and you can read more about my warm-up philosophies here and here.
- Take regular breaks. The duration and frequency of the break will depend on each person, but I suggest taking a 10-15 minute break every 45-60 minutes to avoid physical and mental fatigue.
- Going too fast too soon. Living in such a technologically advanced world has made us a bit impatient. With access to infinite information at our fingertips 24/7, we’ve been conditioned for instant gratification. We want results, and we want them now! Unfortunately, music doesn’t work like this. Trying to play or learn a new piece of music too quickly in the early stages can be detrimental to your progress. Start off by practicing slowly so you can focus on all fundamentals. When you’re confident with the music at a slower tempo, then you can slowly and gradually begin building speed.
- Know what you’re trying to improve. If you find yourself completing mindless repetitions without any specific goal in mind, take a second to ask yourself some questions. What am I trying to improve? How can I improve this? If this idea doesn’t work, how else can I try to improve this section?
- Create clear goals for each practice session. Before you begin practicing, organize your music so you know what you need to practice during your session. I am a big fan of notes and lists, so I also write down specific sections of each piece and goals I have for all my repertoire.
- Switch things up from time to time. Practicing is a lot like going to the gym. Over time, your body acclimates to the various exercises you do, and you reach a plateau where you don’t experience the same level of growth or improvement. This can easily happen in the practice room, so when you feel like an exercise, warm-up, or piece is becoming too easy, switch things up by approaching it differently or working on another piece of music.
- Incorporate performance practice. I always include a performance component during my practice sessions, whether that means running through a few measures or an entire piece or program. The goal is to perform the music without stopping so you can build physical endurance and mental resilience when (not if) you make mistakes.
- Take stock of each practice session when you’re done. Practice progression is a lot like the stock market. There will be ups and downs, but you want to focus on an overall growth over time. After each practice session, review things that went well and things that need further work. This will help you decide what to focus on during your next practice session.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. With so many polished (and heavily edited) videos on social media, it can be easy to feel like you fall short when you compare yourself to others. There is no universal barometer for musical success, and constantly comparing yourself to others will only make you stressed and anxious. Celebrate your journey and your achievements, and congratulate others on their efforts as well.