Knowing how to play an instrument is an impressive talent to have but learning it can seem like a challenge – especially when fantasies of playing flawlessly to an adoring crowd are shattered by the harsh reality of hours of frustrating practice. Indeed, raw talent won’t get you very far with mastering an instrument and while the initial passion for playing may be strong enough to get the equipment and sign up for lessons, it will take determination and effort to keep up the motivation for the daily practice required for improvement. Luckily, many music students have come before to identify a few things that might be stopping you unlock your maestro-grade potential.
1. Blocked Practice
The standard method for learning an instrument is to learn by repetition. This is called blocked practice and involves doing the same task repeatedly until it can be done without mistakes. This type of learning seems to be logical and by the end of a training session the task has usually been committed to muscle memory. However, any music student will know that when you next come to the task, most of the skill and confidence you had would have vanished! This is because the brain becomes less engaged the more comfortable you feel with a task. Blocked practice means quick improvement while practising but slow improvement generally. “Instead, students should switch between three tasks at a time, spending just a few minutes on each. This is called interleaved practice and keeps the brain engaged because it is constantly relearning. Budding musicians will find this to be a more tiring method of learning an instrument, but they soon notice the long-term benefits”, says Edwin Corcoran, a lifestyle blogger at Academized and Australian help.
2. Sticking to Songs
Most students are inspired to learn an instrument by hearing it in songs and wanting to replicate them. Learning the music to favourite songs and being able to play along is undoubtedly enjoyable but students can’t expect their instrumental abilities to improve by memorising a few tunes. Remember that the composer and professional players spent years perfecting their skills before they produced that piece. To properly learn how to play an instrument, it’s important to learn how to connect to the music by learning about the sections that contribute like chord progressions, scales, melodies and rhythm. Appreciation for music comes from listening deliberately to the harmonies, concentrate on the involvement of your instrument and notice how it collaborates with all the different components to produce the final piece.
3. Not having a critic
An integral part of learning a new instrument is having an unbiased expert give a review of your progress. Performing a new music piece to friends might lead to a boost in confidence but unfortunately, they aren’t likely to be able to give the constructive comments needed for improvement. Getting accustomed to accepting criticism can be hard, especially since learning something as complicated as an instrument leads to lists of improvements after every lesson. However, take comfort in the fact that everybody experiences the same struggle and professional musicians still always have something to work on. “Seeing the flaws in your music will mean you’ll be able to work on fixing them, if you make the mistake of thinking you’re perfect, you won’t know what to practice and your music playing will never improve”, explains Peter Chung, a music writer at Paper Fellows and Big Assignments.
4. Going off track
Heading into a practice session without a plan or agenda may result in a session of wasted time. Many novice musicians admit to spending their practice going over sections they prefer rather than working on sections they find boring or difficult. This sort of behaviour can lull you into a false sense of security where students think they are doing better than they are. It’s important to create and stick to a plan for each session. The ideal plan is a mix of warm up exercises, the main focus piece of the practice session and some exercises to finish with. Keeping to a good plan will keep you on track, discourage you cutting your practice session short and stop you avoiding the hard stuff.
The amount of practice involved with learning an instrument can be frustrating and even discouraging as the work is hard and results develop slowly. Avoiding the highlighted mistakes will keep progress moving as fast as possible so that you can make your way to becoming an accomplished musician.