Tips for Beginning Musicians

This time of year, all across the country, there are thousands of kids starting band or orchestra for the very first time!  For the students, it's exciting and fun.  However, I have noticed that there is one thing that is often forgotten when it comes to starting a musical instrument for the first time: Music does not offer instant gratification.  Obviously, this could be different if you happen to be a child prodigy.  But for 99% of the kids starting an instrument and starting their musical journey for the first time, they quickly realize that maybe it's just not as easy as they thought it would be. 

The thing to remember with music, though lacking in instant gratification, is that when you are willing to put in the time and effort, it is so worth it and incredibly rewarding!  Studies show that music helps with grades and makes students more well-rounded.  It also helps with discipline and perseverance.  Throughout my 24 years of playing a music, I have had many instructors, all who take vastly different approaches to teaching.  I've had the teachers who demand 30 minutes of practicing every single day.  There are the teachers who take the approach of, "I don't care how much you practice as long as I hear improvement."  Looking back over the teachers that I have had, I am grateful for each and every teaching style.  But something that none of them told me was, "You can't expect to get where you want to be overnight."  While none of them promised me it would be easy, none of them told me how hard it could be, either.  

This point needs to be stressed more to young (and old!) musicians who are just starting out.  In today's society, practically everything offers instant gratification.  We have cut the waiting time out of most parts of our life.  So naturally, when a kid picks up a clarinet for the first time and doesn't get a sound right away, can't get their hand positions quite right, or lets out several loud squeaks, they get frustrated.  Everything else in their life gives them just what they want or expect right away.  Instruments don't do that.  You get what you give.  Frustration is inevitable.  There will always be parts of music that are going to be challenging for everyone.  The main thing is to just keep going! 

So to try and help ease some of the frustration, here is a list of some basics to keep in mind as you or your student begin their musical journey.

1. Get into a routine.  Have a quiet, distraction-free environment to practice in.  Try to practice at regular times, and make the time!  Even during your practice time, have a routine.  For example, the first thing I do is determine what I want to accomplish.  Then I give myself plenty of time for a full warm-up.  I then move to the tasks that I want to accomplish that day.  Hint: try to mix up what you do in each practice session.  If you have an assignment, you do not have to practice the entire assignment every single time you practice!  Keep it interesting for yourself!

2. Mark your trouble spots.  You should always have a pencil with you, whether you're in an ensemble rehearsal, band or orchestra lesson, or just practicing on your own, have a pencil and mark the spots that give you trouble.  Example: Let's say there's an F# (F Sharp) that you have missed several times.  Mark it in your music!  You'll be hard-pressed to find a professional musician who doesn't mark their music.  The thing is, if you keep making the same mistake over and over, you're essentially teaching yourself to play it incorrectly and making it a bad habit.  It is significantly easier to make a habit than break one!

3. Find music that is just for you to play!  A lot of private teachers that I have had in my life never let me choose any of the music that I got to play.  The result was that I would get bored and stop practicing as much.  Yes, we all have to play music that we don't necessarily want to play.  However, in order to get a well-rounded music education, this is a necessary thing!  So, find some music (that is within your ability) that YOU want to play and work it into your practice routine! Music should be fun, so make sure that you're always playing something that is just for you!

4. Don't be afraid of mistakes.  There are pieces that I have played many, many times and still make mistakes in!  Some days you'll play better than others.  It's just how it is.  Don't let those mistakes hold you back!  Keep working through them.  Mark the music (yes, this is really important!).  If you feel that you are getting too frustrated and aren't making progress, take a break.  Getting worked up to the point that you can't move forward isn't going to help matters.  It's okay to walk away from something for a day.  Just get right back to it the next day!

5. Don't ever, EVER give up!  Music is one of life's greatest joys!  If every musician throughout time had given up whenever it got tough, where would we be today?  To those just starting out, yes it will be tough!  But it will also be so rewarding if you just stick with it!