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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33 replies
  1. Belinda
    Belinda says:

    Very good advice. It’s easy to get discouraged when you expect progress in a week. When I look back on the few months I’ve been re-learning the violin, I can feel and hear an improvement. I remember feeling frustrated at first when things didn’t sound right or were too difficult. I don’t have a teacher at the moment but I think the pace I’ve set for myself is alright for now. All the info on this site is a great help and so is getting a better quality violin from here!

  2. Tracye
    Tracye says:

    I like tip #4 because it gives me the freedom to learn at my own pace…and it is amazing to go back and play a song I learned several months ago and see how much easier it is to play now. It encourages me.

  3. viola09161947
    viola09161947 says:

    Wish I had this advice when I was taking violin lessons while in high school. Instead, I was scattered and disorganized. I played well, but I know I could have played better had I taken this approach.

  4. JudithC
    JudithC says:

    Just like fitness, it still counts to be doing something! If we have specific goals, we do have to make a plan and put the effort into “training”. Efficient and effective……. focused and frequent…… are more helpful than long sessions with too long in between.

  5. margaretellen
    margaretellen says:

    I’m going to try this suggestion – “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.”

  6. DeaconBlue
    DeaconBlue says:

    My biggest problem is getting down on myself when I make a mistake, or get a “screech” instead of the note I was trying to play. I have problems with getting angrier and angrier with myself when things aren’t going very well in practice. How do others handle it when things don’t seem to be working?

  7. Chris Guleff
    Chris Guleff says:

    Such good advice. Looks like a good way to stay grounded and progress naturally. I’m afraid that I practiced in fits and starts — something like cramming for an exam.

  8. DeaconBlue
    DeaconBlue says:

    Great advice, every time I start to get frustrated, I think back to this article and tell myself that this is one of the most difficult instruments there is to learn to play, and that it is going to take a long time to start to feel comfortable with it, and finally, that it will never be mastered – there will always be more to learn.

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