Practice Makes Progress

When learning how to play a new instrument students want to sound good and see results right away, but for most people it isn’t that easy.  It takes time and practice, just like it does when learning a sport, or another language or a dance, but it may not take as much time as you think. Professional Canadian hockey player Eric Lindros said, “It’s not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it’s what you put into the practice.” As someone who has been playing the violin for over 30 years, I know that statement is very true.  Here are some tips to help any new student learn to practice better:

 1.      Set realistic goals.

A beginner may not be able to jump right into a Bach sonata or Beethoven symphony. By setting realistic and achievable mini goals, he or she will receive multiple successes along the way, which can be motivational. Students should work with their teachers or parents to make sure the goals they are setting are realistic.

2.      Make practice a priority.

We all live busy lives. Music students may also have homework to do, sports practices to attend, and friends to visit. However, if they don’t make practice a priority, it will quickly be forgotten or put on the bottom of the to do list. Parents are paying for students to take lessons. They are investing in their children’s futures.  It is important not to forget this.

3.      Make practice part of a daily routine.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Practicing should be a part of the routine, just like brushing our teeth or doing our chores. Depending on the level (beginner to advanced) students may need to spend more or less time practicing. Fact: If students make practice part of their routine, they will improve more quickly. Figure out practice days and times that works best.  It may be in the morning before school, right before dinner, or just before bed.  Stick to it for at least a week or two, and practice will soon be part of the routine.

4.      Change practice times up sometimes.

Routines are good and helpful.  However, some students may lose interest if their routine is too strict.  It may work well to try morning practices one week, and then switch to practicing in the afternoon for a week.  Maybe practice for longer time periods but skip a day in between.  Each person is different, and we all know what works for us.  Also, it’s ok to miss a day or two of practice if we have a lot going on or simply need a break.  Just get back on track as soon as possible.  Breaks that are too long, such as not playing all summer, are not a good idea as students may forget a surprising amount of what they have learned.

5.      It’s okay to make mistakes.

Many students make the mistake of thinking they have to practice a whole song from start to finish, over and over.  Some students stop and go back to the beginning of the song every time they make a mistake. What a time waster!  It’s ok to make mistakes in practice.  Figure out why the mistake is happening, then focus on practicing just that part of the song.


Contributed by Jesse A. Hancock, violin instructor,

Jesse is a high school English teacher and part time violinist.  He has been playing violin for over 30 years and teaching violin lessons for over ten years. He plays in weddings and church functions and has played with the Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra.  He has been teaching with Metro Music Makers for since 2007. He lives with his son Fernando and his dog Mordakai in Alpharetta.

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