Written by: Lauren Vukicevich
When you’re aware of how your mind works, you can use this knowledge to your advantage. There are four fundamental aspects of practicing a musical instrument. Understanding these basics will allow any musician to have more fulfilling and efficient practice time.
The first is that the practice environment is extremely important in facilitating strong learning habits. A good environment will inspire a musician to want to play. What makes a good practice environment? It’s completely dependent on the individual, but there are some common ideas that can be integrated into any space. Inspiration often comes when there is minimal stress, so the space should be free of things like clutter, to-do-lists, or calendars. Having various practice spots can be helpful as well, because studies show that in order to recall information in multiple environments, the learner should also recite or practice that information in multiple environments. Availability is important as well – simply having your instrument in a visible place that makes it easy to access. The first step is usually the hardest when starting anything, so making the initiation easier will help you begin that process.
Another fundamental aspect of practicing is motivation. There are two basic kinds of motivation – internal and external. Internal motivation comes from an intrinsic drive to learn and improve, simply because the satisfaction of accomplishing something feels good. External motivation comes from some source outside of the self, whether that is a teacher, parent, bandmate, class, or competition. These are motivating factors because they promote accountability and following through. Goals can be used for both internal and external motivation, but either way, the goal must be realistic. Large goals should be broken up into smaller goals, which will provide incentives and positive feedback along the way. For instance, if you want to become proficient in a certain style, it’s helpful to first set the goal of mastering one particular song or technique associated with that style.
Third, consciousness is an essential part of every practice routine. Staying present and being aware of every move will always lead to better learning. Going through the motions may slowly imprint the music into muscle memory, but to truly know the music, it’s crucial to consciously think of what those muscles are doing. It’s easy to get distracted by all of the other things going on in life, but in order to stay present, you must focus on what’s right in front of yourself. This means tuning out all of the alternative options – all those other possibilities of what you could be doing instead. You’ve made the choice to pick up that instrument, so make peace with that decision and be there mentally, as well as physically.
Finally, enjoyment is fundamental to practicing any musical instrument. The best way to ensure this is to create a positive framework for approaching practice time. This means going into the practice session with a good attitude, excited about the learning process. Rather than seeing it as a “problem” to deal with, it’s helpful to instead see it as a challenge that will lead to improvement. Quiet thoughts of defeat and “it’s too hard” because the practicing is what will make it possible. Have fun with the process, and when it starts to seem like work, remember to smile. After all, you’re playing music.