The well known adage "practice makes perfect" is no wives tale. Any expert will tell you they didn't achieve mastery by ignoring their trade. Learning to play a musical instrument is no exception. Here are some tips for making sure the time you are dedicating is as productive as possible.
1 – Don't Practice Too Long
You weren’t expecting this one, were you? The fact is, marathon practice sessions may not be in your best interest. Most young/beginner students experience good progress in the first 20-30 minutes of practice (45 - 60 minutes for more advanced students). After that, you may notice your focus begin to wander and your frustration levels grow. If that starts to happen, take a break (an hour or more). This will keep you from spinning your wheels.
2 – Do Practice Regularly
It can be a challenge to find time to practice every day, but putting several days between practice can be detrimental to your progress. Practicing 20 minutes every day is better for your progress than practicing 40 minutes every other day. Make practice part of your routine, just as you would a workout or brushing your teeth. If you wait until you “have time,” that time may never come.
3 – Don't Skip Your Warm Up
Starting with scales or warm up progressions isn't always the most fun, nut it's necessary! Ensuring your instrument, voice or hands are ready before digging into a difficult song will prevent you from stumbling needlessly. If you're not warmed up, you are more likely to make mistakes. Avoid that frustration by taking the time to complete your warm up routine.
4 - Do Use a Metronome
The metronome is one of my favorite tools. I still use it when I practice. The best use of a metronome is to find the most difficult section in a piece and establish a comfortable speed for playing it accurately. Turn on the metronome and apply that tempo to the entire piece. As you master the difficult section, you can gradually increase the tempo. It's a great way to master a piece slowly and accurately.
5 - Don't Skim Over Mistakes One of the key benefits of regular practice is that you are able to call upon muscle memory to accurately execute whatever you're trying to do. So when you don’t address mistakes in your practice, you're reinforcing them. In other words, you’re practicing how to do things the wrong way... which our body will also store into muscle memory. Stop and isolate those areas which give you trouble until you have them mastered. You want to be practicing hitting the correct notes, not the wrong ones!