As you pursue correct finger position and beautiful bow holds and perfect posture, don’t forget the most important part of any musician’s body: that space between the ears. How you approach learning your instrument mentally will determine whether you succeed or fail. Here are some tips regarding how to keep your mind in-tune.
Tip #1 – Learning is a marathon, not a sprint
This may be the most important thing to keep in mind when you’re learning to play an instrument. A person running a marathon doesn’t start out at top speed–they’d never make it to the finish line. Similarly, the music student who launches into learning and practices hours a day is likely to burn out (or hurt themselves) and eventually quit. Remember that learning an instrument is a marathon, not a sprint. Strive for steady, consistent progress.
Tip #2 – Let your teacher set the pace
If you have a private instructor, it’s very important to let them set the pace for your learning. A good teacher knows how to keep you challenged–not discouraged or burned out–and will advise you on how to use your time effectively.
Tip #3 – Take learning one step at a time
It’s much better to set numerous small, easily attainable goals rather than a few large goals. Because our brains can focus on just one thing at a time, remember the “divide and conquer” principle. When you’re practicing, work on just one aspect of playing at a time instead of trying to improve every area of technique at once. For example: play a musical section three times concentrating first on your bowing, then left hand technique, then intonation. You’ll be much more successful this way than if try to focus on all these things simultaneously.
Tip #4 – Measure your progress in terms of months, not weeks
Improvement happens slowly. When you look back at your progress, don’t compare yourself to how you played on Tuesday, or last week. Compare yourself to how you played three to six months ago. You’ll just be discouraged if you’re having a bad week and you don’t take into account how far you’ve come in the past few months.
Tip #5 – Have a balanced mental approach
There are two sides to learning an instrument: technical and musical. Many students tend to focus too much on one side or the other. The overly technical player often strives for perfection and, in his quest for technical mastery, may continue working on the same piece too long. The overly musical student often puts too much emphasis on learning pieces (preferably by ear) and may avoid refining technique with scales and exercises. For maximum success, maintain a mental approach that’s balanced between these two sides.
Tip #6 – Value quality over quantity
Quality practice is the best thing you can do to improve your playing. Twenty minutes of efficient practice is far better than an hour of inefficient practice. Make those minutes count! You can take our music practice quiz here to find out if your practice is efficient.
Here is a great video for how to get your mind prepared for each of your practice sessions.
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