16 Practice Tips for Musicians of All Ages

Practicing is key to achieving your musical goals—no matter your age, instrument, or experience level. It’s the only way to improve and grow. In addition to helping expand your skills and improve your sound, regular practice teaches music students the importance of self-discipline, perseverance, and focus.

A new year is a great time to kick old habits to the curb and create even better practice routines and goals. To help you start the new year off right, Merit School of Music’s celebrated teaching artists have shared some of their top musical practice do’s and don’ts.

Tim Stine, Guitar Faculty

  • It’s important to touch your instrument EVERY DAY! Even if it’s just 10-15 minutes, it helps keep your piece fresh in your mind. That way, instead of spending your limited practice time re-familiarizing yourself with the piece, you can pick up where you left off and make progress!
  • Leave your instrument out of its case. Of course, it’s important to protect your instrument (don’t walk around with it, set it down somewhere soft or on a stand), but removing obstacles is the best way to practice more. If you see your instrument and it’s out of the case, that’s one less thing to make it challenging. It’s right there! Get at it!
  • Enjoy it! When I was a student, I would turn on the radio or my favorite recording and play along with the songs, just to see if I could find the right notes. This has a lot of incidental benefits too—your rhythm will improve, you’ll be using your scale knowledge, and your ear will improve by finding the right notes or key. Learning an instrument shouldn’t be all hard work, it should be fun too!

→ Make music with Mr. Stine in Merit’s spring Beginning Guitar classes!

Jade Maze, Voice Faculty

  • Always stretch before singing (arms, legs, neck, spine). Your body is your instrument.
  • Do your vocal exercises with a light voice (don’t push your voice around). You are warming up to sing like a runner warms up before sprinting.
  • Hear your high notes before you sing them. It really helps them come out in tune.
  • Commit to your vowel shapes fully.

Miro Hernandez, Early Childhood Faculty

  • As much as you want to play through the parts you know, make sure you spend more time on what you DON’T know yet!
  • Make some time to play for your parents and family. This will help you get used to playing for an audience. The more you do it, the easier performing will become. And parents, don’t forget the applause and encouragement. 🙂

→ Make music with Mr. Miro in Merit’s spring Early Childhood classes!

Claire Bachman, Cello Faculty

  • Practice challenging measures at the start of your day and your practice.
  • Set goals for each practice session before you begin.
  • Don’t keep practicing if you feel pain. Stop, and come back to the instrument later when you’re feeling better and after stretching.

→ Make music with Ms. Bachman! Sign up for private lessons or learn about Conservatory cello auditions.

Ligia Takei, Piano Faculty

  • Practicing, to be effective, needs to be part of your daily routine. Set up a specific time for it. For instance, after dinner, or the first thing after school—the same way brushing your teeth is part of your daily routine after waking up and before going to bed.
  • For high school students: During school finals, many students don’t practice piano. But it is shown in studies that you learn more effectively if you alternate different brain activities. So, for instance, if you have Chemistry finals, don’t stop practicing piano. Alternate your Chemistry study with practicing piano—Chemistry for 30 minutes, then piano for 30 minutes. The result is that you will be able to effectively learn for Chemistry finals AND be successful in your piano practice.

→ Make music with Ms. Takei in Merit’s spring Beginning Piano classes!

Steven Gooden, Clarinet Faculty

  • Define success at each one of the steps which lead towards your end goal. The clearer each of those steps is, the easier it is to see progress and feel accomplished.
  • Spend time thinking artistically about what the notes and rhythms within a phrase mean—what is its purpose and character? Develop a vivid aural image of what it should sound like so you’re playing musically and not just technically.

→ Make music with Mr. Gooden in Merit’s spring Beginning Band classes!

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