Everyone would like to know they are on the right path when pursuing something important. The following seven items are the most important things a music student can do to stay on the road to success.
This is not new information, but any successful musician will tell you that it is imperative to practice if you want to improve. Hopefully you have a love of music and practicing is a joy. Even if that is true, it is still hard to get started practicing some of the time. When working on dry technical skills, it is easy to lose motivation. Always keep the goal in mind. Whatever skill you are working on, try to think of a piece that uses that skill and remind yourself how fun it will be to play that piece in a recital. Learn to enjoy the small victories you will have during your practice sessions, and know that they add up over time to make you the performer you want to be.
2) Practice Correctly
You should always be keenly aware of what skills you are practicing, why you are practicing them, and what you are going to do to master them. Make sure you focus intently on each skill, one at a time. It is extremely difficult to develop several skills at once. Usually what happens is that none of the skills make much progress at all and frustration can set in. For example, if you are practicing a brand new piece, be sure to practice in steps rather than trying to play the first measure as you imagine performing it in concert. Learn the notes first, without allowing other things like tone quality, vibrato, and subtle tempo changes to get in the way. Work on those separately . . . later.
3) Be Patient
This goes along with the previous paragraphs, but deserves special attention. I believe that impatience is the source of most musicians’ problems. Often teachers are partly to blame as well. If a student has been struggling with a certain piece for a long time, teachers will sometimes just call the piece done and move on to the next (usually harder) piece in the book. If a piece is not being learned, the student and teacher must discover why. Sometimes the piece is too difficult. If that is the case, they should find a new piece that is a step down in difficulty or focuses on different skills. Often, the piece is not improving simply because the student is not practicing enough, or not practicing correctly (see above.)
4) Listen to Music All the Time
Listening to great performers builds motivation to get in the practice room. Surrounding yourself with music helps you discover what you are passionate about and gives new ideas about your musical personality. Share ideas with your friends and teacher about what music to listen to for inspiration.
5) Be a Part of Something Social
It is very hard to be motivated in a room by yourself, living like a musical hermit. Get out there and play music with and for others. This is one of the main reasons for this website. We would love for everyone to be submitting videos to share with the community, displaying your creative ideas for musical projects, and discussing each others’ work.
6) Perform Frequently
For ideas about performing, please see my previous post entitled, “A.B.P. Always Be Performing!”
7) Find a Great Teacher(s)
A skilled teacher is vital to a student’s progress. Naturally a student doesn’t have the entire path to musical greatness laid out before him or her because he or she is new to music. A teacher can guide you to the next logical step to work on, observe your playing and diagnose minute technical details that need to be addressed, and help you come up with fun, exciting projects to work on. Ideally, your teacher should help you with all the other items on this list. They can help you get motivated to practice, and instruct you on how to practice correctly. They will help you be patient and enjoy every little improvement that you make. They can also lead you to great music on the instrument you are learning, help you find others who want to play together, and find events to perform at.
These seven items are what I consider to be the most important things to become a successful string performer. Please feel free to add your thoughts. What do you think is the most important? What have you found to be the best way to motivate yourself? Let the community know!