Student Corner: 4 Common Bad Practice Habits and How to Break Them

Welcome to the latest edition of Student Corner, our special feature for you and your student to read together. This week’s contribution comes from Mr. Brandon Marsolo.

We are all guilty of having some bad and lazy practice habits, but when you realize your mistakes you get the chance to change your ways and maximize your practicing efficiency. Here are some of the most common bad habits and some ideas on how to break them:

teen guitar student

Bad Habit #1: Playing instead of practicing

Often when we decide to work on music we pick up our instrument and noodle around on a few scales or chords or play songs we already know. This is great – after all, why do we practice if not to make music? There is a difference, however, between playing and practicing. Practice with a purpose! Before you start practicing, you should decide what exactly you are trying to improve and how you’re going to do it. Be specific and develop a routine so you know what you’re working on before you start practicing. Will you start with scales and exercises, and then move on to your method book, and then work on an upcoming performance? Find a routine that works for you.  Also, learn to love your metronome! Nothing keeps a musician honest and exposes mistakes and deficiencies like the steady click of a metronome. Using a click and writing down your speeds for different exercises allows you to keep a palpable record of your progress. Furthermore, starting very slow and gradually increasing tempo is a nearly foolproof way to learn any technique, song, melody etc.

Bad Habit #2: Timing your practice

Every student or parent of a student asks the same question: “How much should I practice?” The short answer is “More”. The WRONG answer that way too many teachers give is “X minutes per day”. When you put a timer on practicing you’ll be simply waiting to clock out and ultimately be unproductive. Sometimes you can make substantial progress in fifteen or twenty minutes and sometimes you can practice for two hours and not get anywhere. The best answer to the question “How much should I practice?” is: “As much as it takes to accomplish your goals”. Practice until you feel like you’ve had a complete and productive practice session.

Bad Habit #3: Not eliminating distractions

This seems painfully obvious but I’m constantly amazed at the places and conditions in which people practice their music. Turn off the TV. Close the blinds. Keep your cell phone in another room (I promise the world will not end) – if you do not own a metronome and use an app, keep your phone on Airplane Mode. Along with eliminating external distractions, it is also important to avoid practicing with internal distractions. If you are having a bad day and dreading practicing, maybe it’s a good idea to take some time to relax and get yourself into a better state of mind. It is difficult to concentrate on something as complex and detailed as music when you have a pre-occupied mind or a heavy heart. Having a distraction-free practice will undoubtedly increase your efficiency, plus there is something therapeutic about closing yourself off from the world and devoting your focus fully to something you enjoy.

Bad Habit #4: Going too fast

Many times when a musician is learning something new we tend to try to jump right into performance tempo. SLOW DOWN! Playing a section or exercise incorrectly lasts in our memory just like playing it correctly does. We remember patterns and the more we play incorrect notes or fingerings, the more that pattern gets burned into our brains. When you slow down and play all the correct notes the first time around you eliminate that subconscious tendency to repeat your mistakes. You can gradually work up your speed once you have the section learned much easier than fixing incorrect patterns and re-learning. Musicians always say – practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent – so do it right the first time.

Practicing often is important, but practicing efficiently will take your training to the next level and yield far more satisfying results. They say it takes 10,000 hours to truly master a skill – go get to work!

1 thought on “Student Corner: 4 Common Bad Practice Habits and How to Break Them”

  1. SO insightful! This is a great lesson for anyone of any background. You could replace the word ‘music’ with any activity people practice- yoga, golf, sewing, etc.. Great article, B.

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