Learning How to Practice – Get the most out of Private Music Lessons At Home

At Home Music Teacher

As an at home music teacher and musician, I have learned through my experience that the art of practice is the most important aspect of studying an instrument. Knowing the most efficient way to go about learning a new piece or technique is an acquired skill and not something that our instinct always leads us to correctly.

Build Continuity

The overall goal of practice is ultimately to build continuity<h2> in our performance, whether in regard to a simple exercise or a difficult addition to our repertoire. The surprising fact about practice is that the absolute beginner and master of an instrument benefit from the same practice principles!

Beginning Piano Student

When I was a beginner and intermediate student of piano, I was all too often guilty of just running through pieces that I was working on from beginning to end while struggling through—rarely stopping to isolate difficult areas. Unfortunately, it was an issue that I don’t feel I completely resolved until I was in college, but along the way, I established the building blocks to achieve good practice techniques.

Music Teachers Have A Role

The power of learning to practice allows a student to have a certain amount of independence in learning a piece and is a skill that can accompany their musical journey throughout life. Music teachers always play an important role in fostering musical development, but teachers are only with the student for a small amount of time each week, and the responsibility of correct practice falls on the student.

Finding What Works

At least once every couple of months, I will have “practice lessons” with students. These are lessons geared towards learning the correct way to approach a piece or exercise that is entirely or relatively new. Many times, a student will find that the correct practice techniques allow them to learn a piece in a fraction of the amount of time it usually takes. Why is this true? Because more often than not, students fall in to the same notion I originally had about “practice time”—that it is how many times you go through the piece and the quantity of time you spend, not how you effectively use your practice time. Here are the top three concepts I emphasize in teaching students how to practice:
1. Practice by Phrase: A phrase is a musical sentence. If you spend time perfecting one sentence at a time, you are not only building up the body of the piece systematically, you are creating natural breaks in the music, which serve as musical punctuation–just like a period at the end of a sentence.
2. Simplify: A difficult section of a piece is not going to resolve itself if you do not take a step back and find a way to make each difficult aspect easy enough to conquer. Whether your simplification is slowing down a section, taking some notes out, looping a rhythm, etc., identifying the issue and finding a way to make it easy is the most productive way to practice (and saves a lot of time).
3. 4-3-2-1 Trick:This is a technique that my piano professor in college, Dr. Robert Henry, used frequently, and I swear by it still. If you are having difficulty bringing a group of notes, two phrases, or any area in a piece together and cannot play it smoothly, this trick is for you! First, you identify where the transition area is that is giving you trouble, and you simply pause in the difficult spot, do a countdown from “4” at the tempo of the piece, and resume playing. Now, you have a break where the problem was, so you can think through to the next section and relax during the pause. After that, you play the same section and do a countdown from “3” instead of “4”, and repeat the same process while taking away a beat each time. Eventually, you get to no break, and the transition area becomes much smoother.

Musicians Challenge Themselves

Learning to practice goes hand in hand with learning an instrument, and a teacher will always give and demonstrate important fundamentals during lessons, whether the student realizes it or not. As musicians, we must challenge ourselves to practice the correct way, and when doing so, many times we find that the experience is much more creative and fun than we initially expected! START LESSONS NOW!

3 thoughts on “Learning How to Practice – Get the most out of Private Music Lessons At Home

  1. Great stuff Heather, I think it’s funny how we all learn the same lessons about practice that you have. As teachers we sometimes for get that it’s not an innate skill but rather a learned technique. It’s easy to see why you and your staff in D.C.and Baltimore do a great job with students.

  2. I agree with, and can relate to everything you say in this post. Thanks for your great tips.
    An addendum to this may well be my new 95-page eBook on How to Practice Music Effectively. It is titled “Good Music Practice – A Practice Method for All Musicians.” This book is for anyone who needs to improve their music practice method. It also includes many tips on the psychology behind music practice and performance anxiety and how to deal with that.
    Interestingly, my book uses the 4-3-2-1 approach (in a slightly different way) for scale and arpeggio practice.
    The book is good for absolute beginners through to professional musicians and music teachers as well as parents of young music students. For more of the best tips on how to practice music effectively plus info and free samples go to the GoodMusicPractice website.
    Kind regards,
    George Urbaszek
    Bass Player and Music Educator

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