How to Practise Your Musical Instrument?

About the Author: Anne Gaurier

Anne Gaurier is a French cellist and gambist, specialising in baroque music. She has studied with renowned musicians. She is also an experienced teacher and teaches at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Toulouse. She performs regularly as a soloist, in chamber music and with orchestras.

As musicians, we can be compared to top-level athletes who need to stay in shape. Just as a runner's legs require training to prevent stiffness and enable them to cover long distances, our fingers, too, need daily exercise to maintain their fluidity and agility.

For example, the lesson you take once a week won't be enough to make progress. I often tell my students that I'm there to give them keys to understanding how to practice, and musical ideas, but it's through daily work at home that the student will make the most progress. I'm now going to give you several steps that will help you to practice properly at home.

Before you start :

First of all, make sure that your home (if you can) has an environment conducive to practicing. For bowed instruments, ensure you can pull and push your bow without bumping into a wall or a piece of furniture.

Choose a quiet place where you won't disturb anyone and where you won't be heard much or at all, and keep away from distractions such as computers, telephones...

Make sure you have a pencil, an eraser, your metronome, and a glass of water with you to avoid any distractions (remember to go to the toilet before you start).

You have just received a new work to prepare for your next class:

  • What's the title? Look up the definition of the word (sonata, mazurka, prelude...)
  • Who is the composer? How well do you know him? Take the time to find out a little more about him and the period in which he lived (Baroque, Romantic...).
  • What is the key? How many sharps and flats?
  • What is the tempo indication? (andante, allegro...)
  • What is the measure indication (next to the key) 4/4, 3/4, 6/8? Do I know what this means?

First, try playing the whole piece slowly to get a feel for it. Once you've played the piece, break it down into large parts, which you can then divide into several smaller portions. For example, you could write down 'A' for the first large part, 'B' for the second, and so on.

Define the time you have available today for your work session, bearing in mind that it's always better to prioritise quality over quantity.

Now select the first small part to finger it and note bow strokes for bowed instruments.

Identify any areas of difficulty in this passage (these may be rhythmic, in-tune, or fingering sequence problems).

If the problem is rhythmic, solfège the phrase aloud by clapping or using your metronome. If it's a fingering sequence problem, work very slowly to understand how it works.


Don't forget that the metronome is your friend because it will be of great help to you in these challenging passages, gradually increasing its tempo.

Once you've understood the short section, try playing it with the metronome at a tempo that seems right for you, without stopping. If you don't succeed, lower the metronome tempo and try again.

Did you notice any indications such as nuances, accents, dots, or dashes on certain notes?

Are you satisfied with this little game and have you reached your goal?

Then do the same with the following sub-sections.

Once you've mastered the small parts, you can move on to the big A part. You don't have to work the whole piece every day.

For example Monday: large part A

Tuesday: large part B...

If you're short of time, you can practice only the first half of Part A on the first day and the second half on the following day.

If you don't manage to increase the tempo, it's absolutely no problem - you can come back to this passage tomorrow.

When you've finished working in large sections, try to follow the piece, but not faster than the tempo you've reached during practice.

Take care to circle or cross out difficult passages. You'll be able to start directly at these points during the next work session. If you are able to identify your weaknesses when performing the piece, you can choose the chapter on this subject from a learning method.

Have you thought about musical expression? Now that you're very comfortable, or at least much more so, you'll be able to express yourself and give beautiful musical intentions to make the piece interesting to listen to.
You can do this at the very beginning of the work, but for my part, I think it's best to lay a strong foundation and feel very comfortable technically before thinking about expression. We're all different, and some of us prefer to think about it right from the start. It's up to you to choose what suits you best.

Sheet music with glasses on score

Music is a language, and it's no good talking about nothing.

To give expression to your score, you use dynamics and indications such as accents, dots, and articulations. Depending on the edition, you may find long slurs above the notes to help you understand the direction of the musical phrase.

You can start singing the song, noting where it feels good and beautiful to breathe. You can also take your time on certain notes. As you begin the piece, try to find out how far the first phrase will go, then the second... You can also make a brief analysis of the work, looking for the return of the theme and the different parts, for example.

In conclusion

  1. Rule number one, as I often say, is to work regularly.
  2. Always remember that music is fun, so keep it fun.
  3. Don't try to work on everything every day, and don't try to play fast what you can't play slow, or you'll be frustrated by the result.
  4. Remember to take breaks during your work sessions and plan what you want to do that day before you start.

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