Everybody makes mistakes, right?

While this is true, all serious musicians seek mastery. And you should be enabled to practice in a way that’s efficient and helps you to avoid making mistakes.

We like to think that simply sitting down to practice is good. But it’s estimated that 93%+ of musicians don’t know how to practice properly. And about 70%+ of the time they spend is a waste of time. Why? Because they don’t know how to practice. So, what’s wrong with “Traditional” practice? Play, stumble and repeat. For hours… It’s a waste of time. And it ruins your technique.

To help you make the most of your practice time, here’s a list of five common practice mistakes and how to avoid them!

1. Practicing a Piece Too Fast

It can be easy to let your default practice speed be fast, fast, fast. But when you play fast, you probably make a lot of careless mistakes. Did you forget the dynamics? That’s a mistake. Did you miss some articulations or not hold a note long enough? That’s a mistake too.

THE SOLUTION – SLOW DOWN & AVOID MAKING MISTAKES

These kinds of mistakes can be easily avoided if you slow down. However, it’s not easy to just stop making mistakes. It’s a test of your patience and willpower to keep the music ridiculously slow. Just like anything else, you need to practice this challenge. If an entire piece takes too long, try a page or two. The idea is to teach yourself how to practice correctly, not necessarily to learn the piece.

Another way to avoid mistakes is to practice the piece in small sections, rather than practicing through the entire piece from the get-go. You’ll find that as you get more comfortable with small sections, your tempo will gradually increase. Don’t think about speed. Don’t try to speed up. The music will start to get faster organically. You’ll know that you won’t make a mistake even if it’s a little bit faster, so you end up playing it a little bit faster.

2. Practicing Without a Specific Goal in Mind

If you start asking yourself, “When am I going to be done practicing? Am I done yet? When are these memory slips going to end?” Then you’re not asking the right questions.

Asking “when” questions will make you focus on speed instead of quality. Your results will disappoint you because you rushed towards your goal.

For example, consider learning to play a scale for the first time.

If you keep asking yourself, “When am I going to be able to play this scale up to tempo?” Then you’ll just be focused on speed. You’ll miss elements like control, tone, evenness, dexterity, and clarity.

In the end, your scale might be up to tempo, but the notes won’t be clear and even. Additionally, the tone may be shaky at best.

THE SOLUTION – ASKING “HOW” INSTEAD OF WHEN

Instead of “when” questions and “am I…” questions, ask yourself “how” questions.

Be deliberate about your practice by setting a goal! Ask yourself, “How am I going to [insert goal here]?”

Finding this goal sets the tone for your practice. Everything you do will be geared towards this specific goal, rather than just blindly ‘improving.’

Everything will be much easier when you find this goal.

This is why we added the deliberate practice button to Modacity. When you press the “improve” button, the app will help guide you as you continue to ask yourself, “How am I going to achieve this?” Not only that, but Modacity also lets you rate yourself – this way, you can track how well you’re doing on each practice item and gauge your progress, focusing on process and quality over quantity.

In the end, you’ll find that asking “how” questions will be more efficient because you’ll be spending less time fixing the mistakes that your “when” and “am I” questions brought on.

3. Not Taking Breaks Properly

If you feel completely exhausted after practicing your music, then you should change your routine.

Total exhaustion comes when you’re not practicing at full potential. Practicing at full potential means you are completely focused. Psychologist Csíkszentmihályi describes it as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one… Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

THE SOLUTION – SPACING YOUR BREAKS CORRECTLY

Partway through your routine, get away from your instrument for 10 minutes.

Don’t think about practicing during that time, just go do something else totally different.

Then come back.

You’ll feel motivated to practice, your thoughts will be organized, and you’ll find new success.

It sounds like magic, but it’s just giving your body time to reorganize itself.

4. Not Listening Back to Your Practice

One of the most important aspects of practicing efficiently is listening to yourself practice as if you were listening to someone else play.

Critique yourself – don’t wait for the crowd to critique you on the stage.

THE SOLUTION – CRITIQUING YOURSELF PROPERLY

The easiest way to do this is to record yourself, then watch or listen to it afterward. You can easily do this in Modacity using the record function, without even having to save the recording to continue practicing.

Also, make sure you are distraction free while listening to your practice. Don’t think about what’s going to happen after practice, or anything unrelated to what you’re currently working on. This way, you’ll be able to concentrate entirely on listening critically to your practice, and identifying what needs improvement.

5. Not Planning Big Picture Improvement

If you don’t think fundamentally about where you want to go with your piece, then you’ll have no idea how to produce something that’s performance ready.

Imagine you’re building a house: you need to lay down a solid foundation in order to build upwards and have a building that withstands the elements.

If you don’t have a solid foundation in the basics, then your building will topple over.

The same goes for music practice. If you want to play something from memory but can’t even play the piece smoothly when the music is in front of you, then the chances of you being able to both memorize and play the piece the way you want to are slim.

If you’re pushing beyond your current abilities too much, then slow down. Progress towards your goal gradually.

Push yourself, but not to the point where you feel that it’s almost impossible.

THE SOLUTION – PLAN PROPERLY FOR SUCCESS

  • Write down specific goals – If your goals are vague, then you’re never going to know if you’ve really accomplished them or not.
  • Ask “how” – Once you’ve set a goal, ask yourself “how” you’re going to achieve it. This will help you to see the bigger picture. Then you’ll be able to plan out the steps you need to take in order to reach that goal.
  • Ask yourself “By when?” – Even if it’s a soft deadline, having one is super important. Without a deadline, your timeline to motivate yourself towards your goals will quickly turn into “never.”

Sources:

The 4 Deadliest Practice Mistakes Ever
The Secret to Accomplishing Anything Easily
Don’t Make Mistakes While Practicing – The Million Dollar Challenge

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.