Practicing Tips for the Aspiring Musician


Vince Lombardi is attributed with saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”  Everybody knows that we need to practice to get better, but how should one practice?   The outline below was composed with the desire to provide you with some ideas and techniques you can use to structure your practice, and reach your goals more efficiently.

Practice Suggestions

Dr. Oliver Hagen, ed. Dr. Peter Folliard


  1. Be deliberate

    • Look at your entire part, and make a list of sections that need attention (approximately 10-20 measures each–or perhaps even the amount of music between rehearsal letters, depending on the piece). Give your practice careful thought.
    • Think before you play; imagine the sound you want before starting
    • Remember, it is not always the fast passages that need work.
    • Think about what was mentioned in rehearsal.
    • Rhythm, intonation, dynamics, and articulation can always be improved, no matter what tempo you are aiming for.
    • Setting a timer can be very helpful for managing focused sessions.
  2. Be diligent

    • Slow practice is indeed always good when aiming for a fast tempo. How slow? Slow enough that you have time to think carefully about your physical movements between each note.
    • Try the metronome at half or third of the full tempo, then work your way up a few clicks at a time.
    • Occasionally jump up to full tempo, to check that you are using your fingers, bow, etc. efficiently.
  3. Be creative

    • Invent rhythmic variations on the passage. If a passage of straight sixteenth notes does not feel even, use dotted rhythms: both long-short and short-long.
    • Invent articulation variations: practice legato passages staccato, in order to help with rhythm. Practice staccato passages legato, in order to listen more carefully for intonation.
    • Strings: Change arco to pizz. Practice reverse bowings. Should you be in the upper half, middle, or lower half of the bow?
  4. Be smart

    • Have the metronome set to subdivisions of the main beat.
    • Record yourself, checking that you are indeed playing exactly with the metronome.
  5. Be resourceful

    • Play along with a recording, in order to practice listening to what is happening around you. You will become more secure in how your part fits in, and you can pick any orchestra in the world that you want to play with! (Depending on the origin of the recording, the intonation may vary radically – just be aware).
    • Use drone pitches to practice playing in tune with yourself. (Thanks David Werden)
    • Try using Practicing Etude with Variations as a tool to practice how to practice.

You may have other ideas. The single most important part of practicing is that it be a time for creativity and discipline. Practice time is your own rehearsal–you are the conductor.

Finally–take frequent breaks for stretching and relaxing, so that you don’t tire yourself out mentally or physically.