How To Grow As An Instrumentalist – My Three Golden Rules Of Practicing

For some years I have kept a small document with notes about what I consider the most important things to remember while practicing my instrument. Whenever I stuck to those rules I noticed much greater confidence in things that I previously found very difficult, at times unattainable. They are not quick fix solutions nor specific to any instrument, but rather a a set of simple rules that is always in the back of my mind.

1. Slow down

This is something we all heard since we were kids, but once you fully understand the value of slow practice you’ll never go back. Always maintain a good inner pulse. Find a tempo so slow that you are in full control, unable to make a mistake. I used to imagine I was playing in “slow motion”, observing myself from the outside while playing, my brain always a step ahead of my body. Once you are able to repeat a passage three times with confidence and without errors, you are ready to take it up a notch. What surprised me when applying this rule was that once I mastered a passage in a slow tempo, I could take it up to speed much sooner than expected.

“If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast.” – Itzhak Perlman

2. Be persistent

My biggest challenge learning difficult etudes, caprices or concertos was being impatient and giving up too easy. I wanted to master it too quick, not realizing that I forgot one important factor: TIME. The best analogy I can think of is that of the Chinese Bamboo Tree, a true example of patience and persistence. The tree needs five years of care and nurture without showing the slightest sign of growth. Then, on the 5th year it shoots up to more than 80 feet tall in one season! The same goes for practicing, by being persistent, day by day you will get a little better and gradually go on to the road of mastery. Sometimes it will take months before seeing any noticeable improvement, but you’re always in a process of developing. Be relentless!

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time.” – Thomas Edison

3. Don’t overwork yourself

Just as you would give your body a day’s rest between workout at the gym, your mind also needs time to relax and absorb after a good practice. If you worked a lot on a piece of music one day, leave it the next day while working on other repertoire. Once you get back to it your brain will be more fresh and the things you learned will have had time to sink in.

Related articles:
Is Slow Practice Really Necessary?
The Chinese Bamboo Story – A Lesson In Patience
The Benefits of Rest and Recovery After Exercise