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How to improve your playing in 2021…

1. Review your current practice routine.

Do you simply play through some pieces or do you practise for mastery? It is fine to pick up your instrument a couple of times a week just to play and enjoy without trying to achieve some specific outcome. However, when you practise this should look different.

2. Schedule your practice sessions for the week ahead and record your progress.

At the moment it can be difficult for one day not to slip into the next and before you know it a whole week has passed. Look at your commitments and set aside some 20–30 minute practice slots and make that commitment to stick to it where possible. Before you start, think about what you want to achieve in that session and how you might best do that. Use a notebook to jot down what you did and where you need to go next. This active participation in your own learning will make you hugely more successful.

3. Regularly review your objectives with your teacher.

Look at what your goals are and what you would like to achieve. Whether this is to play a particular piece of music, take an exam, develop your ensemble playing, or whatever. All these are great goals but make sure your you have mapped out how you will get there and what success looks like to you. Be sure to share these with your teacher so they can help plan your learning journey.

4. Go back to basics...

Check your embouchure, tonguing, posture... have bad habits crept in? Sometimes, you will find you have moved away from the best methods to compensate for something that wasn't quite right. Maybe you are struggling to hit a particular note, because the way you hold the instrument makes it hard to play a key... If you carefully reflect on everything you do, as the expert you are now becoming, you are more likely to spot beginners' mistakes.

5. Get involved

A big part of playing an instrument is performance. This has been difficult during a global pandemic, but students of McAusland Music have continued to do this in online concerts. We all look forward to when live concerts at venues can resume but don’t miss out on the new opportunities that have arisen out of the difficult performance circumstances of today. The transferable skills required to perform to others are huge!

6. Listen to music

Listening to professionals who play your instrument is really important. You may have started playing your instrument because you were inspired by the sound of a particular piece or artist. As you have been playing, you have developed a lot more understanding of how they played the music that moved you like it did. Why not go back and listen to that musician again, but apply the expertise that you have earned? Maybe you can't copy them yet, but learning by imitation will help to shape your own playing.

7. Listen to yourself

Most people hate hearing their own voice on a recording because it sounds so different from inside our own head. However, you learn so much by listening to yourself - you learn to cut out the 'umm's and 'aahh's in your sentences that you never noticed were there. Similarly, if you record yourself on your instrument you will have the cognitive space to listen carefully to how you sound. Then, as you practise, you can focus on reinforcing the aspects you like and cutting out the ones you don't.

8. Read helpful guidance.

Take a short break in your playing to access the resources I provide free of charge to help you learn. My blog posts are targeted at areas that I know will support my students in the next stages of the musical journey. Read them to benefit from support outside of your weekly lesson time. As with so many things, your skill in music is often helped by taking a step back and considering it from a wider perspective.

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