Practicing for extended periods of time can often cause physical tension.

And if you search Quora looking for tips on how to relax during practice, you may come across suggestions like yoga for improved body alignment, Alexander Technique for improved body “use,” or conscious awareness to catch and release tension.

While all of those are great, what’s most important in eliminating tension is habit. If you don’t translate these practices into habits, you’ll never be able to properly relax while practicing your instrument.

Keep reading, and I’ll explain how you can turn healthy and effective practicing skills into regular habits.


If you aren’t familiar with the four stages of competence, it’s a pattern of learning that concerns the progression of a person’s state of mind while they are becoming familiar with a new skill. These steps are important in learning how to form good practice habits.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence (“didn’t even know!”)
    You have the wrong intuition about your ability. You are either unaware of your own mistakes, or in denial of them.
  2. Conscious Incompetence (“this is not good”)
    You recognize your failures and realize you need to continue learning in order to boost your skill. It’s really important at this stage to realize that making mistakes can be a crucial part of improving because it can often be demoralizing to face what you have been doing wrong head on.
  3. Conscious Competence (“I can do it when I focus on it”)
    You have learned how to overcome your bad habits! But it takes a great amount of concentration and effort to demonstrate that you have.
  4. Unconscious Competence (“It just happens, freeing me to focus elsewhere”)
    What you have learned has now become second nature to you, and you no longer need to concentrate in order to exhibit what you have learned.


To learn to be habitually relaxed while you practice, you need to move the skill of generating relaxation through the competence stages.

One way to achieve this is to keep a playlist of items such as the following:

  • Tension-free scales
  • Finding ideal posture
  • Playing loud efficiently
  • Fast passages at maximum relaxed tempo

Regularly track how well you are able to practice each one, noting each time you make an improvement. Eventually, you should be able to relax effortlessly!

Additionally, if you are looking for a tool to help you organize your practice, look no further! With the Modacity music practice app, you can record all your sessions and rate each one accordingly. As you improve, you can change your ratings and watch your progression go from one star (no mastery) to eventually five stars (full/automatic mastery).

Marc Gelfo

Marc Gelfo

Marc has been practicing music for 30+ years. After applying cognitive science & computer science to French horn, Marc became an internationally touring symphony musician. His experience includes teaching and performing with thousands of musicians around the world, including the San Francisco Symphony.