Practice makes perfect, they say.

This is particularly true when it comes to mastering the artistry and technical skill of a musical instrument. But not every practice regimen will help you transform into the next Chopin or Yo-Yo Ma. It takes a dash of regular routine, a serving of creativity, and a heaping dose of dedication.

If you find yourself becoming stagnant or frustrated, don’t worry – there is always a way to switch up your practice routine and get over the hurdle you face. With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can take your practice style to the next level and see steady improvement in your abilities. Here are 9 helpful habits that you can easily start to incorporate into your musical routine today.

1. Always Start Slowly

According to a TED Ed lesson that looked at how the brain reacts to practicing music, you can benefit from playing songs in slow motion. Each time you undertake a new piece of music, start at about half speed. Focusing on accuracy instead of tempo helps your brain program the correct notes and physical movements associated with playing the song. As you feel more comfortable with the piece, you can increase your speed.

2. Commit to Your Schedule in Public

Even if you have a deep commitment to turning yourself into a musical phenom, it’s easier to skip your daily session when no one else knows about it. Social accountability can be a reliable motivator. Find a fellow musician who will check in on your progress, or post a practice schedule at home where other people will see it. Of course, your accountability buddy must be willing to remind you if you skip a session.

3. Keep Distractions at Bay

Engaging in mindful intention can make all the difference in your practice. If you casually practice in front of the TV or regularly get interrupted by the ding of an incoming text, you’re bound to slow your progress. Choose one space where you regularly practice, be it a quiet den or the corner of your living room, and turn off all distractions while you get to work. Keep the tools of your trade within reach, so you don’t have to get up while you’re in the zone.

4. Set a Goal

When you’re a beginning musician, setting goals may seem lofty. After all, you’re just trying to get your bearings. But even setting small goals can be incredibly motivational and help you take your practice routine to a new level. Begin each session with a small, measurable goal. It’s better if the goal is specific. For instance, “I want to play my piece two times in a row without any mistakes” is better than “I want to practice for 30 minutes.”

5. Take Breaks

It’s understandable if you’re eager to practice for hours at a time as you set out to become a master musician. But just as being constantly distracted can be problematic, so too can practicing for hours on end without giving yourself a much-needed walk around the block. Taking breaks helps you avoid brain drain. Take one short break for every 45 minutes of practice, or whenever you find yourself losing focus. Even a quick 5-minute water break may be just the brief reprieve you need to avoid frustration or burnout.

6. Explore Technology

Thanks to smartphones, you don’t need to buy a ton of equipment to have a productive practice. At least, not in the beginning. Use your phone’s timer to track your session, or download a free metronome app to help you keep pace. You can even find music tuners in the app store. If you’re struggling because of simple roadblocks, integrate a tech solution into your routine and get back to work! By regularly checking for new apps, you will find more helpful ways to improve your practice sessions at the touch of a button.

7. Visualize Yourself Playing

At the end of the day, when you crawl into bed to go to sleep, forget about counting sheep. Use the time to visualize yourself playing your instrument in lots of detail. Think about the feel of the strings or smooth ivory beneath your fingers, and imagine yourself playing your music without flaw. It might sound cheesy, but perfecting a difficult piece in your mind can help you tackle it for real the next time you sit down to play. You can even practice how you would breathe during your performance.

8. Take Videos of Your Sessions

Like it or not, your memory can fail when you try to recall your practice session. You may be harder on yourself than necessary during a small mistake, or you may not catch certain tendencies. Thankfully, there is an easy-to-implement habit that can counter this problem: take videos of yourself practicing and then watch them back at the end of the day. Like a football coach watching tapes on a Monday morning, you might notice a lack of breath control, poor posture, or a part of your piece that you play too quickly.

9. Start in the Middle

It seems only natural to start at the beginning each time you sit down to perfect your current piece. But you only have a limited amount of willpower and attention span at your disposal throughout the day. If you’re having a bit of trouble with the end of your song, you may never fix it if you always start with the first note. It’s OK, even beneficial, to work on specific stanzas or bars for hours. Switching up the order in which you practice can also be a brain booster. If your practice has gotten boring, try playing the verses backwards or at a different speed to break your funk.

Routine practice is essential to advancing your potential. Picking up bad habits is normal, so working hard to combat them should be, too. Implement these 9 small habits into your practice schedule and watch your musical prowess soar!

Which habit keeps you on track and in the zone when you’re practicing?

Author's Bio: 

Jennifer Paterson is the Founder and President of California Music Studios. Jennifer, A.R.C.T., Master’s of Music (voice, piano), has degrees from Boston University, The Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. She was a recipient of The Canada Council Award to study at the well-known Royal Opera House in London, and was the principal soprano for the Boston Lyric Opera Company. Her dedication to the legitimate training of the voice and piano has made her a definite asset to the musical community of Southern California.