Keeping in mind the advantages and challenges we’ve outlined above, these tips will help you get the most out of learning music.
1. Identify what kinds of music you like
It is only natural that we would want to play music that we already enjoy listening to. As adults, we most likely have developed clear music preferences. We are more emotionally engaged by some types of music than others. This isn’t usually the case for young children as their music preferences are still being shaped.
Learning music that we like keeps us motivated to continue practicing. Go through your music library and identify the types of music that you like. You might find it helpful to start from a particular artist, composer, or genre. Next, find out what you need to play that style. One good way to do this is to look for song covers on Youtube. Sometimes, you might even find links to sheet music in the video descriptions.
You should also identify what exactly you like about the music. If you like Guns and Roses, do you like Axl Rose’s melodic singing? Or are you enamoured with Slash’s guitar solos? Perhaps you like the rhythm provided by the drums and bass?
2. Choose your instrument carefully
If you find that you have specific preferences for particular genres of music, you should choose the right instrument for that type of music.
Some instruments are more suitable for some styles than others. If you’re a fan of rock and metal, you might prefer to learn the electric guitar or the drums. If you like classical music, the piano or violin might be more interesting. While it is possible to do covers of classical music on the electric guitar and renditions of metal headbangers on the piano, you will find it more engaging to learn an instrument that fits your preferred genre of music.
You should pick an instrument that suits your lifestyle too. Do you have the space to have a piano in your home? If you are constantly on the move, picking a more portable instrument like the clarinet might be preferable. If you have thin walls and cranky neighbours, a digital piano with adjustable volume might be most suitable.
3. Be open minded
While you have a preferred style of music, it’s important to keep an open mind to new types of music.
For instance, even though you might be interested in pop piano, learning and listening to Baroque music can’t hurt. You might get new ideas and even grow to enjoy it. You’ll be surprised to find out that there are popular jazz renditions and metal covers of Bach’s music that you might appreciate.
Furthermore, mastering Baroque pieces can improve your skills. For example, practicing Bach’s three-part Sinfonias can train your ear to identify melody lines and improve the dexterity of your fingers as you play multiple melodies at once.
4. Clear distractions
Practice time should be sacred. There should not be any distractions while practicing. You should not be cooking soup, discussing projects on Facebook Messenger, or helping your children with their homework as you practice. When you practice music, you should be entirely focused on honing your musicianship.
This requires some degree of self-discipline. Consider placing a timer in front of you as you practice. Make sure you keep practicing until the desired time has elapsed. Another thing you can do is to create a conducive practice environment. Have a music corner or room in your home without anything to distract you. There should be no computers, mobile phones, or crying babies in your sacred place for music practice.
The good news is that you should be able to actively take steps to minimise distractions. As you are learning music because you want to, you have the determination to get the most out of your practice sessions. Children will need more supervision with this.
5. Set a schedule but be flexible at the same time
If you intend to “practice as and when it’s convenient,” you’ll probably end up getting very little practice.
You should set a practice schedule to help you keep up with your learning. Practice sessions should be regular and timed such that distractions are minimised. Getting help from your partner or spouse to minimise distractions for you goes a long way, especially when kids are involved.
Practice sessions do not need to be too long. Around 30 minutes each time is sufficient. If even 30 minutes is too long, you can look for multiple free periods in your day in which you can practice from 10 to 12 minutes, which corresponds nicely with our average adult attention span. You can also plan for multiple “music breaks” in the day, to destress before gearing up for your next task of the day.
While you should schedule regular practice, you should remain flexible as well. Sometimes, you might have more important things to do than practicing music. It could be a medical appointment, your child’s concert recital, or a friend’s birthday celebration. You should be flexible enough to have a “Plan B” if you have to miss your practice session. Have alternative arrangements in mind. You can practice at a more convenient time, or have a longer session the next time.
As you plan your practice schedule, have some idea of what you want to achieve in each session. To master any piece of music, you need a specific plan with measurable outcomes. If you’re intending to master a long sonata, it helps to break the piece into smaller bits, and master the piece bit by bit. You might find our guide on planning practice sessions useful.