Embracing the Art of Practice: A Guide for Music Students

Success is merely learning to move from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.


In our quest to continually evolve as musicians, we at the Louisville Folk School understand that how we practice is as important as how much time we spend practicing. In this guide, we delve into the nuances of effective practice, drawing from a rich discussion among our teachers in a recent pedagogy meeting. 

Understanding the Essense of Practice

  • Make it Fun:
    • This is your time with the instrument. Find joy in the process, laugh whenever you can, and delight in your discoveries. The more you dread practicing, the less you will do it!
  • Progress = Time x Focus:
    • Effective practice is more than just clocking hours; it’s about the intensity and quality of your focus. Break down your practice session into concentrated time blocks, free from distractions. This approach ensures that each minute is dedicated to learning and improving.
  • Iron Out the Wrinkles:
    • Tackling a piece's challenging parts head-on is crucial. Identify the sections that give you the most trouble and isolate them. Practice these 'wrinkles' slowly, repeatedly, and with full attention until they smooth out and integrate seamlessly into the rest of the piece. Playing a piece you know well can be a wonderful warmup to the real task on hand - ironing out the parts you are struggling with. 
  • Figure Out How to Mess Up:
    • Embrace the art of making mistakes. Challenge yourself to take risks and push boundaries. This process is invaluable for building resilience and adaptability in your musical journey.
      • When you 'mess up,' analyze what happened and teach yourself how to recover quickly. 
      • When playing along with a recording, your metronome, or in a group, let go of mistakes as soon as they happen. Focus on staying with the beat and on the right chord. 
  • The Power of Slow Practice:
    • Playing slowly is a time-tested method for building precision and muscle memory. It allows you to focus on the details of each note and the transitions between them, ensuring accuracy and clarity in your playing.
  • Sing the Music:
    • Singing the melodies and rhythms of your pieces can deepen your understanding and internalization of the music. It’s a powerful tool for phrasing and expression, applicable even for instrumentalists.
  • Active Listening:
    • Regularly listen to recordings of the pieces you’re learning. This helps you absorb stylistic nuances, understand interpretation, and get a sense of the overall structure and flow of the music. Listen to the chord changes to identify the function (“Is that the 5 chord?”) and quality (“Is that major or minor?”) of each one.

Deepening Your Practice

  • Make Your Metronome Groove:
    • Practice making your metronome 'groove' by playing with it musically and expressively. This will not only improve your timing but also enhance your rhythmic feel. Refrain from arguing with your metronome.
  • Visualize Your Performance:
    • Incorporate mental practice into your routine. Visualize yourself playing a piece flawlessly from start to finish. This technique not only aids in memorization but also helps build confidence and stage presence. Best of all? You can do this when you are away from your instrument. 
  • Free Play:
    • Allocate time for unstructured play. This could be improvising, experimenting with different sounds, or just playing what sounds good. Free play encourages creativity and helps you connect more deeply with your instrument.
  • Collaborative Learning:
    • Practicing with fellow students can be incredibly beneficial. It provides opportunities for feedback, learning new perspectives, and, most importantly, enjoying the communal aspect of music-making.


Practice can be a joyful journey of continuous learning. We hope these insights empower you to explore new dimensions in your playing time, leading you to reach your musical goals. Don’t forget to ask your teacher how and what they want you to practice and for their favorite practice strategies. 

Resources to Enhance Practice

Backing Tracks

Slow Down, Loop, or Transpose Audio Files