As we strive to develop a deeper connection to music we must all confront the reality that the most important factor in our musical growth and development is practice. Practice can be fun and it also requires discipline. Here are 7 tips to practice music that will help you stay inspired, grow musically and sound like a pro.
Creating a rhythm and pattern is crucial in establishing a solid music practice.
Carve out time daily to spend playing and practicing your voice and/or instrument.
Create a space that is quiet and conducive so you are focused and not easily disturbed.
Set goals and work your way thru those goals, repetition is key. Take your time with each exercise or song you are working with to master that technique. It is best to be able to play something consistently before moving on.
Commit to practicing for set periods of time. Ideally a minimum of two hours a day for an aspiring musician although four to eight hours is required in some instances. Even if you commit to a half hour or hour a day that is great, the key is commitment and consistency.
2. Breath and Posture
Having breath and posture awareness are two critical aspects to reaching your full potential as a musician. This applies to vocalists and wind players but is equally important for all instrumentalists as well.
Having breath awareness centers you in the present moment and gives you the tools to remain focused.
Take a simple moment before you begin your practice to ground your energy and connect to the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body. Become fully present in your body and create awareness around your neck position, your shoulders, your back, your arm positions and how you stand or sit. Try and remain relaxed throughout and allow your muscles to work efficiently.
3. Set Goals - Write them down
Having goals for you practice is key to moving forward and growing as a musician. It can be a goal of learning a song, a scale, chords, working on your tone or timbre, understanding theory, practicing harmony, there are so many things to work on with music it is really just a matter of focusing first on what your goals are then how to get there.
For instance if your goal is to play piano and sing at the same time then simple goals would be to practice piano and singing separately to master each one then bringing them together. Create a log for your practice goals and write them down to track your progress.
If your goal is to become a blues guitarist then you should practice the pentatonic blues scales. If your goal is to become a fluent composer then studying theory and harmony could be some obvious places to focus. They key is to set long term and short term goals. What are your bigger goals and how can you work your way towards those goals today?
4. Play in Time - Practice to Rhythmic Pulse
This is such a crucial aspect for every musician no matter what instrument, style or level. The best musicians in the world practice to a click track. Rhythm is a fundamental aspect to all music and learning how to play in time is crucial if you want to be taken seriously and grow as a musician.
Practice everything to a pulse. I say pulse because that can be a simple metronome app such as this () or a more complex drum machine or software program such as this () If you are a practicing singer/songwriter practice to a pulse, if you are vocalist practice to a pulse, if you are an instrumentalist practice to a pulse.
Playing to a click is crucial in the recording studio as timing is everything in recording. Practice everything to a pulse and when it comes to time to play with other musicians, especially your drummer friends they will respect you.
5. Play in Tune - Use a Tuner and Record
Playing in tune is as critical to playing in time is to your music and practice. If you don't take the time to really refine and master the art of not only tuning your instrument but playing in tune then you will always sound like your music is off in some way no matter what.
Before you begin tune your instrument, use an accurate chromatic tuner or if you are capable tune by ear. If you are a singer tune up by practicing scales and long tones using a tuner. Practice and make sure to continue tuning throughout. Practicing staying in tune will serve you when it comes time to hit the stage.
The other side of course is playing in tune and this is critical to being a high level musician. Record yourself so you can hear if your playing or singing is out of tune somewhere. Slow it down, work with simplicity and repetition to refine the problem area. You may find it is one or a few specific notes that are causing issue or a hand position on an instrument. Most important, take time to work on it and your audience will thank you!
6. Listen Deeply and Play Dynamically
Be present and focused while you practice and work on your skill to listen deeply. Really try and do your practice in a quiet place and work on listening as deeply as you can to your instrument, the tone of how you play or sing a note, the dynamics with which you play.
Dynamics are one of the best tools you can use to express emotion in music. Playing soft or loud, fast or slow and other dynamic techniques will give your music a pro sound! The best musicians play with incredible dynamics.
(read my article)
When you practice, practice dynamically. Use different techniques and variations in your approach to different exercises to play with dynamics, if you practice dynamics it will become a key part of your playing and you will sound like a pro!
7. Learn from the Pros
One of the best ways to become a better musician is to learn from the pros. Attend live performances of your favorite musicians and study their performance. There is nothing like seeing a musician play live to really feel and hear them in the room they are playing, this is WAY different then watching videos.
With that said, videos and the access to youtube is a fantastic way to learn music from pros. You can watch their performances or find lessons online for just about any instrument and technique. This is an incredible library and one of you greatest tools as a musician.
Study with a teacher! Find a great teacher, there is nothing quite like learning one on one or in class group settings from someone who has mastered their craft. When you have this kind of immediate interaction and studying with a great teacher you can shave sometimes years off your learning and move ahead much quicker then on your own. A great teacher can give you form and techniques that are based on real world experience and are invaluable.
Listen to a lot of music! Listen, listen, listen. Close your eyes and listen to music, really listen deeply to what you love and study what the musicians are doing, how they are playing off each other. Closing your eyes and listening gives you a special perspective that watching someone performing doesn't give. When you close down your visual sense and listen to music you hear it in a different way. (Article on deep listening)
Conclusion -- Love what you do
Most importantly, love what you do with music! If you are bored, got to a concert to get inspired, go to youtube and watch some performance videos, listen to old albums that were your favorites at an earlier time of your life.
Create a consistent practice schedule and make sure to begin by establishing breath awareness, body awareness and good posture techniques. Always set goals and create an organized system of logging and documenting your practice and progress.
Practice playing to a click and master playing in time. Practice playing with a tuner and master playing in tune. Listen deeply to your playing, listen for the nuances and the dynamics, when you listen deeply your audience will listen deeply.
Watch and study the Pros in your musical styling that inspire you, go to concerts, study with great teachers! Keep the musical fire stoked and burning bright. Play with other musicians, go to songwriting circles, take a workshop, book a gig. Stay inspired, love what you do and you will stay motivated to continue to practice and grow as a musician!
Do you have any stories or tips you would like to share about how practice has supported your growth as a musician? Please leave a comment below and let us know.