How to Get Better at Playing an Instrument

When it comes to being good at playing instruments, the secret to success isn’t exactly that hard to figure out. You just practice and practice and practice and hope that somewhere, the Gods of Music are observing your hard work and give you a lucky break. But not all musicians realize that the playing field is not at all level, and the path to success can be made greatly easier by taking just a few easy steps, listed below:

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Not everyone can become a Mozart.
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Find the Best Method of Instruction for You

While teachers are certainly helpful for learning at first, you know yourself the best. Learning on your own may create bad habits that can affect your playing in the long run, but teachers can correct things like that. However, certain teachers may stifle your potential by assigning you pieces that do nothing to address the problems that you have, or by moving too quickly or slowly. But teachers may help you to get out of your comfort zone and do things you wouldn’t have done on your own. In the end, it really depends on how you learn as opposed to how your teacher teaches

Build The Basics First

Just like you learned how to add before learning how to multiply, you must first learn proper posture before playing harder music. The main reason for this is because if you don’t start with the correct posture, bad habits form easily and die hard. No one loves spending years doing the same thing, but that’s how good habits are formed, and then you can go as fast as you’d like without your posture will prevent you from playing well. Case in point? Me. I’ve been playing violin for about eight years but for the first two years, I had a terrible bow hold, and I slouched. Sure, I could play things fast and shift and stuff, but then I hit a wall and stopped improving. Once I corrected my posture, it was like I lit a match in the dark. Suddenly, I was improving quickly, not to mention that my tone quality no longer sounded like I was torturing cats.

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Violinists, let’s cringe together on three. Non-violinists, this is NOT how you play. At all.

Practice Your Technique

Listen, kids, don’t be like me! If you keep practicing your scales and cadences rather than half-halfheartedly giving up on them for a bazillion years, there’s no way you won’t surpass my piano-playing ability in a few short years. Despite what your peers say, technique is just as important as repertoire – perhaps even more important considering that many composers incorporate scales and arpeggios and stuff into their pieces. And let’s admit it – isn’t playing a piece in E major easier if you actually know the E major scale?

Constantly Set Goals

Sure, you can succeed without setting goals for yourself, but it’s so much easier to improve once you have a vision of what you want to do a week/month/day/etc., be it finally learn a scale and/or finish page two of your piece. If you have a private teacher, they will probably set your goals for you. If you don’t have a private teacher, make sure your goals are time-sensitive but also possible to accomplish. Once you have your goals, work hard to reach them. By the end of the time period, you should have accomplished all the goals you/your teacher set previously for each piece.

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SMART goals

Don’t Just Practice, Practice Smart

It doesn’t matter how long you practice; if you spend eight hours doing absolutely nothing but the easy parts, throw those first-chair dreams away. Each practice session you do should consist of scales (and arpeggios, cadences, etc), etudes/exercises, and a few pieces. Some musicians like to do it differently, and that is okay as long as you are not just practicing one aspect! For your pieces, I suggest using practicing strategies such as playing every few measures in a new piece three times at one speed, three times at a higher speed, three times at an even higher speed, on and on until you can get to playing speed. This helps better your fingerings, intonation, rhythm and all that. If you know other practice methods, please leave a comment! We’d love to hear them.

Mix it Up a Little Every Once In a While

When your playing starts to sound more like a metronome than your actual metronome, it’s time to do things a little differently. Maybe you’re tired of playing your scales in the same order, so play them in reverse the order you normally do it in, or roll a dice to pick the order of the scales. If your etudes are getting a bit trite, try playing them before your scales if you normally play them after. Or maybe the first part of your piece is getting plenty of attention but the last part is suffering greatly – so practice from back to front. Even one altercation can make a boring/monotonous session seem more interesting and fun.

End Every Practice Session on a High Note

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Can I get a round of applause for that?

No, not literally. Figuratively? Yes. Just think about it – if you had a unproductive, uninspiring practice session, would you be as motivated to practice again tomorrow? Would you be in a good mindset during the next practice session? A bad mindset equals unproductive practice session equals a bad mindset equals unproductive practice session…you’re stuck in a rut, and it’s your job to get out by having a good practice session. Even if your piece is not going the way you want it to go and your scale is the sound equivalent to dog breath, you could still play an older piece you know you’re good at, play the parts of your current piece that you feel confident about, or do countless other things to make you feel better. And then go to your next session with a good mindset and conquer the notes for once and for all.

Find Your Gang (of Friends)

Even though most classical musicians make it seem like everyone who plays the same instrument as you is evil and is plotting to overthrow you, that is simply not true. If you can find a like-minded group of musicians, they can inspire you to try new things and help you do things you wouldn’t do on your own. In moments when you feel discouraged, they can even make you feel better. A friend with a higher skill level than you can be your mentor, and you can help your friends who aren’t quite as experienced as you. In the end, the pros outweigh the cons by far.

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Okay, I think we’re done! Thank you for joining me as I share the tips that help me play better. If you have a tip you want to share, please comment! Until the next post, friends 😀

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