How do I practise?

Most people are happy to start learning an instrument but once they get going the thing they find hardest is HOW DO I PRACTISE?  WHAT DO I PRACTISE?  WHEN DO I PRACTISE?

Many players do a lot of playing but much of it turns into idle noodling i.e. undirected playing and really this is mostly a waste of time and energy if the aim is to improve your playing.

Always remember that practice is the process of getting to do what you couldn’t do before.  Just playing pieces is not practice unless you are focussing on particular aspects of performance.


First of all you are a musical athlete!  Just as all athletic sports people have to do a warm-up or preparation of some kind before they attempt their main event, so you need to do a musical warm-up to get your fingers and ears settled and ready for the practice to come.

This is really important as it will also set you up after the practice or playing that you did the day before.  Each instrument has different technical demands, so the warmup will necessarily be different in content, but the basic elements of your instrument’s technique need to be set up.  For example, warming up both the left and the right hand by playing some simple chords or strumming.


Break the piece down and find the difficult bits.  These are the points to practise.

Notice where the piece goes wrong, it can only be from one single event to the next one.  At any place it can only be from one note to another note, one chord to the next chord, one note to a chord or a chord to a note.  Once you have found this place in the music, play the ‘glitch’ slowly until you get it right and then start playing it faster.  Then gradually expand this ‘join’ in the flow of the piece to notes before and after it.


It’s great to review material regularly.  There are always things to develop and as you progress you’ll see the older material with fresh eyes or rather fresh ear!  You’ll also see how much easier a piece is that you might have struggled with when you first tried it.

So many beginner students do something a few times and think that’s it.  It’s really important to keep things going, especially in the early stages until the piece is really learned.  Constant repetition with good attention builds energy and this is essential for good performance.  This feels good and the next time you come to practise you will notice the difference in your playing.  It’s all accumulative and if you keep up the regular practice this energy will build into something wonderful.

When you go back over material you can get inside it more and explore more than just trying to play the right notes.  Experiment with very familiar material.  Vary dynamics, speed, articulation etc. to get a fresh view of the piece.  Anything to keep it alive and feeling good.


Be happy with any improvement, keep going in your practice, have fun and enjoy the music!