Learning a musical instrument

Learning a musical instrument can be rewarding and fun – but it also takes time and practice.  It involves high levels of both physical and mental skills.  Progress is different for every learner and can vary for different instruments – sometimes progress is slow at first and then perhaps is quicker later on.  It is not a race and you should not compare your progress to others.  However, there are some tips that can help your individual progress to be as good as possible.

Choosing an instrument

Choose an instrument carefully – ideally have a try at a few to find what you like the best.  Also, take advice on what might be best for your age and size.  Generally, string instruments are fine for ages 4 and upwards (in a small size) although most wind and brass instruments tend to come in only one size so you may have to be a bit older, bigger or stronger to hold them.  Once you have chosen, stick with this instrument for as long as you can – don’t be put off after the first few weeks if you are finding it more tricky than you thought – this is perfectly normal.

Choosing a teacher

Choose a teacher who you find inspiring, sets expectations that are right for you and also makes learning fun.  A good pupil/teacher relationship can make all the difference.

Practice

Personal practice is the key to progress.  Lessons are NOT for practice – they are to show your teacher what you have achieved since the last lesson and to receive guidance on what to do next.  Knowing HOW to practise is just as important as knowing WHAT to practise and your teacher should help you with this.

  • Find a regular time to practise every day – or at least 5 days out of 7. Regular practice at a regular time means it is more likely to become a part of your routine.  Your progress will be much better if you do this rather than trying to squeeze in a whole week of practice in one go in a panic before your next lesson.  Learn to practice for yourself, not for an exam, performance or even for your teacher.  As you progress, there should be no other reason to practise other than simply for the pure enjoyment of getting better at what you can do.
  • Set the length of your daily practice time. This can be difficult to determine but as a general rule, practice for a minimum of 5 minutes for every year you have been learning.  g. for a beginner 5 minutes a day is sufficient.  By the time you have been learning for 5-6 years you should be practising about 25-30 minutes a day.  This may not seem very long but remember this is practice time, not playing time – i.e. this is time to practice the things you cannot yet do, not simply play through what you can already do.
  • Choose what it is you are wanting to achieve – maybe a scale, a short tricky passage, a particular technique – and repeat it as much as you can slowly. If you make a mistake, stop immediately, work out what went wrong and try again – perhaps even slower.  Remember, the more times you make the same mistake the more difficult it becomes to correct it.  When repeating something try to avoid getting faster each time – just let it feel easier each time instead!  The rule of 3 is a good measure of success – if you can play something 3 times in a row with no mistake or hesitation then you should feel that you have achieved your goal.

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