5 Things You Should Do Before and After You Practice Your Instrument

Here's how you can become a better musician before and after you pick up and play.

by Tarun

Creator, tuneUPGRADE

So you're about to start your practice session - are you really ready to pick up and play? And when you're all done - do you close your piano, put your guitar back on the wall, or your violin back in its case and call it complete? There's a tremendous opportunity to become a better musician beyond just picking up and practicing what's on the page. In this post, I'll cover five things you can start doing to become a better musician outside of having your hands on your instrument.

Of course, I'm already assuming that you use tuneUPGRADE to build up your practice routines!

#1: The Practice Preview

Before you start, take a quick preview of what you're about to practice. Do the timings seem right? Or did you master something yesterday, or want to introduce something new today, and need to give those a tweak? Yesterday, did want to keep going on something when the timer ended, only to flip to the next section of your practice routine and feel de-motivated?

Before you start, taking a moment to simply review your routine and make any necessary adjustments. See what's coming up and change it up as needed!

Of course, as you move through your routine, you should always read over your practice notes before jumping in - if you took diligent notes at the end of your last session, you'll know what areas need the most work!

#2: Analyze Those Pieces!

The earlier you can start learning music theory, the better. It's not as scary as it sounds - and it certainly not just academic - understanding theory is one way to learn much, much faster. Simple things you can do include ensuring you understand the key of a song, the scale(s) that go along with it, and note those in your practice notes for easy review.

Learning how to do harmonic analysis can take you pretty far! Many, many pop and rock songs follow the same kinds of chord progressions. If you take a few minutes to look at a chord progression, you might realize - you've already played it in another key! This opens up your ability to see patterns in songs you enjoy playing, and can help unlock your songwriting talents and be able to learn songs much faster. Don't believe me? Check out this TEDx talk by Josh Kaufman, who was able to identify that many songs use very similar chord progressions, and was able to speed up his ukulele learning considerably.

Finding any interesting part of a song and understanding its pattern is a great way to translate your skills to learn other songs much faster as well.

#3: Listen To Yourself

When I started playing guitar, I'd play through a solo and think I'd nailed it. But I'd listen back and compare myself to a recording - many times, the artist's performance had a lot more soul. Sure, I could hit all the right notes at the right times, but it just didn't sound right. It wasn't until I started critically listening that I could pick up details - a note extended in just the right way, a bit of vibrato, the shape of a bend...all of those little details really mattered. To tackle this yourself, start by recording yourself playing something, listening back, and trying to identify where you can improve. Are you happy with the performance? If so, great! If not - why don't you like it? Sometimes that can be hard to pinpoint - and that's when listening to other recordings come in. Really listen with a critical ear to understand how someone is playing to make the music be filled with feeling.

#4: Immerse Yourself in a Positive Community

The people who surround you every day - whether online or offline - have a large influence on your life. If they all start eating healthy, you're more likely to start eating healthy. By contrast, if they all have bad habits - well, it's easy for you slip into those habits justifiably.

The same goes with learning an instrument. If you're lucky enough to have friends or family that play, or can find a supportive jamming group, take advantage of it as much as you can. The right situation can propel your learning forward greatly.

Even outside of jamming, joining up to social media groups where others are also learning can be a great resource. Find a subreddit that lets you talk with and listen to others about your instrument! There's no shortage of people who are willing to answer questions you may have, and by reading about the challenges others are having, the types of ways people learn, and the resources people recommend can make a huge difference. Plus, you won't feel so alone - and if you're brave enough, post some recordings for some constructive critique!

#5: The Practice Review

Of course, given the first item on this list was the practice preview - when you're done, always give yourself a nice little practice review as well. How did you feel during your routine? Was it boring, or exciting? Should you take the time now to tweak it a little, or tear it all down and build it up fresh? Do you want to go on the hunt for new songs to learn? Or just take a minute to acknowledge - you have already improved since before you started.

Practicing an instrument can really be a grind sometimes - there are challenging walls to get over, difficult pieces to learn, and very few people can be considered true virtuosos at their craft, and that takes years and years of practice. But, you can always take time to celebrate those incremental victories - and the practice review is a great time to do that.

Happy practicing!

This post is part of the The Beat, a blog by the free music practice tracker tuneUPGRADE. Sign up and start tracking your practice to become a better musician today - totally free!

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