The 12 stages of practising a musical instrument

3 September 2014, 17:30 | Updated: 6 January 2017, 14:45

Musicians everywhere know the agony and ecstasy of practising. Rehearsal time is precious, useless, essential, wasteful and indispensable all at the same time - and we've documented the journey.

1. Finding the right spot

Not too warm for brass and woodwind, not too cold for pianists' fingers, not too far from your house if you're a student, not too big so the acoustic ruins your sound, not too dry so you can hear all your mistakes, not too small so you feel cramped and stressed… so, yeah. Anyone know a room like that?



2. Tentative success

Hey, looks like that hard work last time paid off! Those legato passages have finally gained some character! Those sfzorzandi are really popping! I AM AMAZING!


3. Actual progress

Even better, all the technical problems and pitfalls you seemed to trip over yesterday are miraculously missing today. Reward yourself. Take a break.

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4. Break-time

This section of practise can last anywhere between one minute and, if you're unlucky, several hours. It's imperative that you don't lose focus.

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5. Procrastinating

You know what procrastinating is, don't you? When you're supposed to be methodically learning the intricacies of a Kabalevsky concerto, making sure the runs are sounding just perf-GUYS THERE'S A DOG IN THE CAR PARK I HAVE TO GO.

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6. Shame-faced return to practising

OK. You were being silly. Time to knuckle down and make sure those tricky passages are consigned to oblivion. It's time for steely determination. 



7. More procrastinating

Yeah. Still not practising. Take a leaf out of this guy's book and just muck about with a pencil instead of doing any actual work. All together: "This is a very good pencil."


8. Food

All that practising can make you hungry. If you're practising away from home in a practice room, make sure you've either lined your instrument case with packets of nuts or you have a pizza delivery outlet in the vicinity.


9. Frustration

Returning once again to your doomed practice session can invoke feelings of annoyance. Try not to let this become a physical manifestation. 

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10. Dulling realisation you've remembered nothing from your last practice

Nothing at all.


11. Abject defeat and despair

That's it. That whole session was futile. Anything you may have crammed into your head in the first few minutes has sadly been lost. Maybe crying will help.

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12. A lifeline! 

Seconds before you finally throw in the towel and pack your instrument away, you absolutely NAIL that passage you were struggling with. Justice, thy name is fluking a musical breakthrough. Practice! It's all worthwhile! Let's do it again tomorrow!

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