Music and Career Advice

  • Common Mistakes Made By Young Saxophonists

    Hi everyone, this is Rheuben. I’m going to talk to you about some of the common mistakes made by young saxophonists. And the first thing that happens with most young saxophonists and the most important part of this is that they do not put the mouthpiece far enough on the neck.

    On every mouthpiece, saxophone, reed, or player combination, there’s a thing we call the “sweet spot.” That means the placement of the mouthpiece where everything responds the best, intonation is the best and everything works. That “sweet spot” can be a fraction of an inch out or a fraction of an inch in.

    Now often times you’ll see people who play real tight [their embouchure] and they’ll have their mouthpiece out at the end of the neck. If you’re only on this far [shows], that’s all that you’re covering with the mouthpiece, the instrument will not respond very well. [The mouthpiece should] be on at least 3/4 of the cork, in that general area and then move it in and out that [fraction of an inch] to find the “sweet spot.” [The “sweet spot” changes slightly for each mouthpiece and/or player.]

    One of the other things that we tend to do as young musicians, or as all musicians actually, on the alto saxophone, for example, we tune to the middle F#. That note on the alto sax is an average of 30 cents sharp. So, when you tune to that, that means that you’re going to pull the mouthpiece out too far and then you’re going to have a flat low register. So what you want to do on the alto, the strongest tone, and I learned it from my friend Dan Higgins is the middle B. Right in the middle of the staff. Tune that B and then go up to the F# and you’ll hear the interval better. Then you won’t have the tendency to be sharp.

    If you just pull the F# straight out of the air, it’s going to be sharp. So on any instrument, you want to find the best note to tune and you want to make sure the mouthpiece is on the instrument far enough to respond. And I will be covering things in other videos shortly. Thanks so much.

    July 20, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 2005

  • I’m a Musician, Do I Really Need to Go to College?

    In the US, college is often something that we feel we have to do. Regardless of what our future vocation may be, college is the next mandatory step after high school. And a rather expensive one at that especially if you don’t source your student accommodation from a trusted website similar to

    For many majors, that’s very likely to be true, but as a musician, one might argue that a college degree isn’t totally necessary. This is debatable. Some people think that having a college degree will help them out in the future, especially if their musical career fails. If you’re considering going to college, remember that it will be expensive. The cost of college has been known to put some people off, however, that shouldn’t stop you. If you really want to go to college, there are things you can do. For example, a lot of college applicants will start online crowdfunding pages to get donations from the public. This can help them cover some of the costs of college, allowing them to follow their dreams. For more information on crowdfunding for college, it might be worth visiting GoFundMe (see this here). That should help you to pay for college, so now it’s just a case of whether it’s worth it or not.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think that obtaining your university diploma is an incredible accomplishment and an even more incredible experience. It’s absolutely something that you can be proud of doing.
    + College Audition Tips for Saxophonists
    + College Auditions and Applications

    Despite this, however, if your goal is to be a musician, college might not be as necessary as you think. If your goal is to get out and play, no one is going to ask you to see your diploma. They might not even ask you where you went to school. If you’re talented and professional and you do a good job on the gig, that’s all that matters.

    If you plan on being a musician, you don’t need to go to college, especially at the price it costs and the estimated salary you’ll be earning unless you hit it “big.” For most musicians, college is an unnecessary expense.

    But as someone who has been working in the music industry for nearly a decade (part of which was while I was at university), I’ve seen it become increasingly harder for musicians to support themselves making a full-time living in music. As unfortunate as it is, it might not hurt to have something to fall back on until your career in music takes off.

    Remember that if you choose to go to college, your major doesn’t have to be in music. In fact, studying something like business and marketing could be incredibly beneficial to your music career. A lot of the skills you’ll learn in those classes are ones that you can apply to your music business.

    You can, of course, choose to major in music if you wish, but your career options can be limited once you graduate if you take that path. If you can’t imagine doing anything other than music after school, then by all means pursue your dreams. I, myself, majored in music, so who am I to stop you?

    But if you’re open to the possibility of expanding your skill sets and broadening your knowledge, considering another a major (with a minor in music, perhaps), might be something to think about.

    If it happens that you need to take another job after college, or you decide to take another job to help support your music career, that option is more likely to be open to you if you study another field.

    You should also consider the possibility that your career will be in music, but not in the way that you expected it to be. Perhaps you end up working at a music-related company such as an instrument manufacturer, an instrument sales shop, a record label, or an artist management firm. Some of those options might not be available to you if you don’t have a degree, and so, it’s definitely important to take that into consideration.

    That being said, there’s always the argument that it isn’t good to spend hours away from your craft at a job that isn’t music. Every hour should be spent practicing, writing, and hustling to get gigs to give your career its best chance.

    I’ve had experience with both ends of the spectrum. My husband and I are both musicians with extraordinarily different education backgrounds. My husband dropped out of high school to go to a music conservatory and is a successful musician without any sort of diploma. I am on the completely opposite end of the spectrum because I have a Master’s degree (in music). For me, personally, I found going to college valuable but my husband didn’t. We are both professional musicians, we both work regularly and neither of us regret the paths that we took to get to this point. It’s a decision that only you can make.

    As I mentioned, I understand both sides of the argument. Neither route is easy and it’s a very personal decision. One that no one else can make for you. It’s all about what your financial and personal needs are, your goals, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to have a music career. As an example, I know someone that wanted to be a musician since his early teens, however, his financial situation never let him pursue his passion and skill to the extent he should have. It was only since he looked at the likes of this stash review and reviews into similar investment apps that he finally started investing in his financial future. Of course, there are so many ways to invest in your financial future these days, so people should be able to find a method that works for them. For example, some aspiring musicians might decide to use Bitcoin to make some more money in the future. They could just read the review over at and then they could start using trading robots to do all of the difficult tradings. That should help more people to achieve financial security.

    Reasons Why You Should Go to College if You Want to Be a Musician:

    • A few more years of training
    • Developing other skills and discovering new interests (GE courses)
    • A backup plan just in case performance doesn’t work out you’ll have the qualifications to get another job to help support your music
    • Networking; to meet other talented, up and coming musicians your age
    • Burn-out is a real thing and you risk leaving yourself without any other option if music doesn’t work out for you
    • The experience
    • You’re interested in working in the music industry as something other than a performer

    Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Go to College if You Want to Be a Musician:

    • Procrastinating (literally “buying” yourself more time – surprisingly a huge reason people go)
      fear – real life after school can be intimidating
    • Because you need a diploma – you really don’t if you are certain you only want to pursue music full-time
    • You’re already working successfully as a musician and you would have to stop working to take time off for college (in that case, you can do it online or come back to it later)
    • Most colleges don’t provide you with the proper tools for actually working in the music industry (business, networking, playing in diverse genres, legal stuff like copyrights, etc.)

    Further Reading:

    Why did you/didn’t you go to college? Or, why do you want to/not want to go to college? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, but please keep the conversation civil!

    July 13, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 2771

  • The Dangers of Swapping Instruments

    I know that today’s post may seem a bit silly to some, but I wanted to touch on this subject because of questions some of my music students’ parents had about swapping instruments.

    First, to answer a specific question:

    “Is it normal that my child’s music teacher played their instrument?”

    Yes, it is, but they should have taken a few precautions before doing so. Usually a teacher play tests a student’s instrument if there is some concern about whether it is properly functioning or not. When they do this, they will most likely use their own mouthpiece and setup. If they choose to use your child’s mouthpiece, they should, at the very least use their own reed and sanitize the mouthpiece both before and after using it.

    Another question was:

    “Should I worry about my child trying out their friends’ instruments at school?”

    And it’s this question that I’d like to spend a bit more time on today.

    When we’re young we often feel as though bad things happen to “other” people, they don’t happen to us. The reality, however, is that things can happen to anyone. It’s important to be careful. Especially when it comes to your health.

    I remember back when I was in junior high, I swapped instruments with my friends. I tried out the tuba just because, or maybe the trombone or clarinet. I even tried my hand at vibraphone. Looking back, I’m thankful how lucky I was I didn’t pick up more illnesses than I did doing just that.

    Even though swapping instruments with friends may seem tempting, it’s best not to do so without taking precautions to ensure the instrument is clean.

    Germs can survive on music instruments for several days – particularly in wind instruments where moisture is collected. Those who play wind instruments have often complained of having recurrent sore throats or inflammation and there have even been cases of pneumonia.

    Here are just a few things you can pick up from handling someone else’s horn or instrument:

    Cold/Flu – colds and the flu affect people differently so while it may seem like your friend only has the sniffles, sharing an instrument with them could lead to you ending up with a full blown cold or flu if your immune system doesn’t fight the infection the same way.

    Warts – warts are extremely contagious and if the person with them doesn’t take care to cover them up, they can spread easily. When you handle the same instrument as someone with warts, you risk giving the virus a chance to infect your body as well. For example, borrowing the drumsticks of a friend with warts could lead to you getting them too.

    Fever Blisters – sharing mouthpieces with someone who has a fever blister can result in you picking up the virus (whether you’ve had fever blisters before or not). And playing any wind instrument with a fever blister can be painful.

    Lung Infections/Bronchitis – if the inside of an instrument isn’t kept clean, you can put yourself at the risk of developing a lung infection or bronchitis.

    Strep Throat – yup, another infection that can be passed by sharing mouthpieces with another player.

    A good way to prevent the above is to regularly clean your instrument, avoid playing the instruments of your peers, and politely decline when they request to play your instrument. It isn’t enough to clean the outside of your saxophone, flute, clarinet, etc. You also need to make sure you clean the inside as well.

    There’s no reason to be completely paranoid, but it’s always better to be on the safe side. Try not to swap instruments with your friends. It may sound like fun and it may be tempting, but it’s always best to play it on the safe side.

    In conclusion, clean your instrument and don’t share it with others! If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to share an instrument, however, make certain that you have your own mouthpiece and reeds at the very least.

    Here are a few cleaning tools we suggest to help get you started:

    Further reading:

    July 8, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 2195

  • On Being Professional VS Being an Amateur

    I recently read an incredibly interesting article by James Clear on the difference between being a professional as opposed to being an amateur.

    While the article is geared towards writers, the article can be applied to anyone who has a career as a creator (consultants, musicians, artists, etc.).

    There are a lot of ways to define the difference between someone who is an amateur and someone who is a professional – whether or not they’re doing it full time, for one – but I think the way that James Clear breaks it down is really interesting.

    A professional is someone who sits down and creates or works, whatever you want to call it, every single day even when no one expects it of them. It isn’t about whether or not you’re motivated or inspired to do the work, it’s about sitting down and doing it anyway.

    In the writing industry, I’ve often heard it said that inspiration comes out of sitting down and putting in the time. It comes from sitting down and spending hours in front of the keyboard even when it’s the last thing we want to do. You cannot expect to find inspiration if you’re not already in front of the keyboard trying to turn over the stones under which it’s hiding.

    And I agree.

    It’s in my daily practice that I am inspired to write new songs, to push my playing further, and to improve the work that I do as a musician. It may be harder some days than others to get my sax out of the case to get to work, but it’s really only getting started that’s difficult.

    If I wait for the motivation to play or the inspiration to write to come and find me, I might wait a long time. And that’s a lot of potential practice or writing hours that I’m missing out on. It’s a lot of skill at my craft that I won’t develop which prevents me from having those inspiring breakthroughs.

    Like James Clear says, it isn’t easy to sit down and work or practice when you don’t feel like it but you’ll never regret the time you spend working on important things for your career.

    To sum up his article, he presents three tips to becoming a pro. In essence, they are to decide what you’re good at and what you want to pursue, to setup a schedule to work at them, and to stick to that schedule for an entire week.

    Why one week? Because at the end of the week you get to take what you learned and what you worked on and modify your work goals for the next week. It’s like a reset button that you hit so that your work schedule aligns with your goals as they evolve with your ability and place in the music world.

    You can read the original article by James Clear here.

    What are your thoughts about what it takes to be a professional? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

    July 6, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1733

  • A Fun Way to Work on Ear Training | Memrise

    The skills necessary to become a successful musician go beyond just playing our instrument well. In addition to being a good musician, we need to have a good business sense, the ability to juggle a diverse range of tasks, and more.

    Once we start getting busy with gigs, the business aspects of music, and practice, we sometimes neglect developing other aspects of our musicianship. Particularly because some of those things we need to work on aren’t that enjoyable to do.

    But what if there was a fun way to work on ear training?

    That’s why I’d like to introduce you to Memrise.

     A fun way to work on ear training | Memrise

    Memrise is a learning application based on spaced-repetition and it’s a great way to learn everything from a new language to geography.

    In their music section they have courses on:

    The lessons are short – they take around five minutes to complete and they’re a convenient way to work on different aspects of your musicianship. Memrise has both a web-based version and a mobile version of their app.

    I use Memrise on a daily basis for a variety of things and I have found it very effective.

    Get started with a free profile today.

    If you’ve tried Memrise, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below! Have you tried any other applications to develop your musicianship. What are they and what did you think?

    June 22, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1784

  • How Learning Languages Has Made Me a Better Musician

    I began studying languages around the same time I began to study music, and they are similar in as many ways as they are different.

    The one way I’ve found that doing both has benefitted me the most, however, is in that I can take the study skills and habits I develop for one and apply it to the other.

    There are four aspects of language learning: reading, writing, comprehension, and speaking. Depending on your goals with a language, your ability in each of the above four may vary. Perhaps your goal is to converse with family – in that case your comprehension and speaking will be at a higher level. Or maybe your goal is to read books or comics in their original language. In that case, your reading will be your strongest skill.

    In a lot of ways, each of those four aspects exists within music as well.

    We need to learn to listen. Listening allows us to perform and interact with other musicians. It also allows us to learn new things from what we hear around us.

    We need to learn to speak. We need to find our voices on our instruments. We need to play a melody in a way that it becomes our own. We need to take the music vocabulary we’ve picked up and apply it to new contexts much like a language learner needs to take the words they’ve learned and construct them into sentences that reflect what they want to say.

    We need to learn to read. To truly be successful as a musician, it helps to know how to read music. Or at the very least, chord charts.

    We need to learn to write. Even if you don’t write your own music, there may come a time when you need write your own charts or arrangements. Having the ability to write music is another tool in your toolbox and will help you build a successful career.

    But one can go beyond drawing comparisons between the skills required to be efficient in both music and language. In fact, you can directly apply the study habits and skills you learn with one to the other.

    Here are just a few ways studying language has made me a better music learner:

    1. There are two ways to listen.

    You can listen passively – the music plays in the background, but you aren’t paying much attention to it. This type of listening is purely for enjoyment, maybe immersion, but it isn’t doing a lot for your ability as a musician. If you really want to make the most of the time you spend listening to music, you need to listen actively.

    You need to sit down in front of your speakers, or tuck yourself into your chair with your headphones on and give the music 100% of your attention.

    2. Watch movies with subtitles.

    In this case, play along to records with transcriptions. When the material is too far above your level, it’s okay to cheat a bit and use a transcription as a guide to help you get where you want to be. Don’t rely on your “subtitles” or “transcriptions” for too long though, or you’ll find that you grow dependent upon them and stop using your ears.

    3. A little bit everyday makes a big difference.

    It’s better to study for a short period of time every day consistently than it is to practice for several hours one day and then not practice for the next few days afterwards. The consistent practice does a lot more for your endurance and ability as a player than binging and purging your practice do.

    4. It’s always better with others.

    Just like learning a language on your own has its limits, practicing your instrument alone in your room can also prevent you from reaching your full potential as a musician. It’s no fun to have a conversation with yourself when you’re learning a language. It’s also no fun to spend all your time working on music alone. It’s sometimes best to get out and perform with other musicians, getting experience on stage, interacting with other performers, and enjoying their companionship. It’s a win-win. You get to practice your instrument and make friends.

    5. Writing things down can help you internalize them.

    Taking a moment to write down the things you’re working on can help you better internalize the information. Just like teaching helps us understand what we’re doing better by the very nature of having to explain it, writing the information you’ve learned down helps you maintain it. You may take this as far as actually writing down the solo you transcribe, or it may be something as simple as just taking notes about what you’ve spent your practice session on so that you know where to pick things up the next time you sit down to work on your instrument. Try writing things down and keeping a practice journal!

    So there you have it. What about you? What things do you study outside of music that have helped you become a better musician either directly or indirectly? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

    June 17, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1512

  • 5 Practice Materials That I Actually Use

    A while back I challenged myself to use Project365 to practice for an hour every day for an entire year. Although that’s really technically what we’re already supposed to be doing as musicians, there are times that we take a day or two off from practice.

    And as long as that day or two off from practice don’t turn into a week or two, that’s okay.

    Sometimes it’s because we’re doing other music related things like writing or dealing with the business aspects of music. Sometimes it’s because we’re feeling a bit under the weather or because we’re feeling unmotivated.

    Regardless of what the reason might be, it’s natural to want to take some time off.

    Those breaks also help us to digest some of the material we’ve been working on during our practice sessions, renew our energy, and find our motivation to pick up our horns after a short time off.

    The breaks also help us step back and take a look at our playing to see where there’s room for improvement so that we can decrease our chances of hitting a plateau.

    But there are other ways to avoid plateaus in our playing. I personally feel that one of those ways is by practicing things that inspire, motivate, and push us beyond our comfort zones.

    Practicing my instrument – not just playing – but actually working at things that I could improve every single day for an entire year could get pretty trying. Finding the right resources to keep me going day after day wasn’t easy. But once I found them, I stuck with them.


    Because they worked.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    And since those tools worked for me, I still use them today and that is why I want to share them with you.

    Etude books

    There’s nothing like a good ole warmup with a couple of etudes. Whether it was sight-reading a couple of classical etudes for oboe, or shredding through a jazz etude based on the whole-tone scale, etudes were my constant companion.

    I tried to keep a nice mix of various etudes on hand so that I wouldn’t get bored working through any one style and so I wouldn’t grow too familiar with the etudes I used for sight-reading.

    Here are a few of the etude books I’ve used:
    + Greg Fishman
    + Randy Hunter
    + Ferling

    Play-alongs and Karaoke tracks

    It’s one thing to play along with an original recording. It’s another to need to play the melody convincingly with your own flare. It’s also another for you to be on your own for a solo on five choruses straight. I liked to record myself playing with play-alongs every so often to see how I felt about my “performance”. It was a really great way to measure my growth and where I had room to improve.

    Transcription books

    When I wanted to read something a little more challenging, I moved to transcription books. I used the Charlie Parker Omnibook primarily, but I had a few others as well. These are really great for picking up more advanced lines and studying harmony.

    Lots and lots of recorded music

    Relying on transcription books to study great players isn’t enough. You also need to use your eyes and try your hand at transcribing solos from recordings yourself. You may not catch everything, but it’s really great practice for when you’re out in the real world, interacting with other musicians on stage. It’s also great for internalizing new material.


    Even though it’s been a few years since I’ve graduated, I still like to check in with a teacher or a peer every so often to get honest, unbiased feedback on my playing. It’s also really great for when you need a bit of direction.

    In Conclusion

    That year that I spent practicing every day was the year that I made the most improvement in my entire career as a musician and it wasn’t because I practiced everyday. It was because I was actively paying attention to my playing and looking for ways to improve the areas where I struggled.

    I still practice nearly everyday but even with a few days off here and there I am making just as much progress now with my playing as I did during my Project365 because I am more mindful when I practice and whenever I’m unable to find the answers I need on my own, I do not hesitate to schedule time with a teacher to get them.

    So there you have it. The five things that I use regularly to practice. What are some of the practice tools that you like to use the most? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

    June 15, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1550

  • Most Popular Music Advice Articles | 6 Month Update

    Today I’d like to share the most popular music advice articles and music business tips on Teen Jazz the past six months.

    We work hard to bring you the most relevant music advice and reviews and here are the ten articles that you liked best so far.

    1. 10 Popular Music Business Books // We try to read and review some of the most popular music business books to help you decide which you’d like to add to your reading list.
    2. 33 Content Marketing Ideas for Musicians // Content marketing is a really great way to work on your artist branding and to keep the content on your music website fresh.
    3. 10 Simple Tips to Get Motivated for Musicians // Looking for some motivation? Here is a roundup of tips to help you get started.
    4. College Audition Preparation for Saxophonists // Preparing for your college music auditions can be stressful, so we asked one of the saxophone instructors at Cal State Long Beach to help ease the process for you by writing a detailed post on the process.
    5. Three Little Words – “What’s Your Fee?” // Teen Jazz Artist Adam Larson wrote this incredible post for us on what to charge for a gig. What’s your fee?
    6. Learn Jazz Lingo and Slang // Want to learn a fun bit of jazz history? Try picking up some of these words and phrases!
    7. A Beginner’s Guide to Playing “Outside” // Ready to take your improvisation to the next level by learning how to play outside the changes? Teen Jazz Artist Sean Winter wrote us this detailed post to help you learn how to play outside.
    8. Saxophone Playing Tips and Practice Suggestions // A broad collection of tips for saxophone players on everything from articulation to breathing.
    9. What Songs Should I Learn for Jam Sessions? // We worked with several contributors to create this pretty thorough list of songs to learn for jam sessions.
    10. A List of Summer Jazz Camps // Your favorite post was our list of summer jazz camps! Totally understandable since summer jazz camps are awesome. They’re a great learning experience for musicians of all ages!

    This check-in was a huge change from some of our previous roundups. In the past, our interviews with artists like Mindi Abair and Greg Adams were the most popular.

    Either way, thank you all for your support and for reading our posts!

    Best of luck in all of your musical endeavours!

    PS. If you’d like to see an article that you’ve written in this list at the end of this year, find out how to become a contributor here.

    June 8, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1798

  • 7 Ways to Get the Most From Your Music Lessons

    Music lessons are completely different than anything you’ll get out of class at school. For one, the lessons (unless you take group lessons) are entirely focused on you, the learner. They are tailored to your specific level, you specific goals, and your specific struggles. Teachers in a classroom environment, unfortunately, just are not able to give their students that kind of attention.

    Keep in mind, however, that lessons aren’t a way to cheat your way through learning music. You still need to work hard.

    A teacher can only give you the tools you need to improve; it’s up to you to open up your toolbox and use them.

    1. Prepare // Preparing for your lessons in advance will make them infinitely more productive. If you’re getting ready for your first lesson, bring something to perform for your teacher so that they can an idea of where you’re at with your playing. If you’ve already started studying, make sure you work on the things your teacher gives you so that you return to your next lesson prepared.

    2. Do your homework // Like I mentioned above, it’s important to complete the tasks your teacher assigns you to the best of your ability. This may mean that you get through everything successfully or that you don’t quite get through everything. As long as you make your best effort, you’re doing a good job. This also helps your teacher gave how much to give you to work on between lessons – they may realize that they’re giving you too much or that they aren’t challenging you enough between lessons.

    3. When you’re at your lesson, dedicate all attention to your teacher // Turn off your phone. Stop thinking about the other things you have to do. For the thirty minutes or the hour that you’re with your teacher – be there with your teacher! If you need to take notes, write them AFTER your lesson while they’re fresh in your head. Don’t waste precious lesson time with meticulous notes. If you’re worried you won’t remember, jot down something that will help you later on, but do it quickly.

    4. Make note of any questions you have while you’re practicing/studying // If you have any questions that come up while you’re practicing between lessons, make a note of them so that you can ask your teacher during your next lesson. For me personally, I take note of anything I am unable to do on my own – whether that is certain techniques, fingerings, or a concept that I do not understand – I make note to ask my teacher about it during my next lesson.

    5. Record your lessons // This will eliminate your need to take notes during the lesson (see above) and will also give you something to reference while you’re studying on your own. Make sure you review the recording.

    6. Practice your new material in context // Did you work through a new transcription or learn a new line to play over a ii-V-I progression? Practice it in context. This can be along with an Aebersold, as part of a performance, or even during a rehearsal with your jazz combo at school. Make sure you’re taking the information you’re learning and giving it a context so that it’s something that you can really utilize in your playing.

    7. Share what you’ve learned // One of the greatest ways to truly make something you’ve learned your own is by teaching it to someone else. Being able to explain something you’re doing helps you further engrain that information.

    Where can you find a teacher?

    You can find a music teacher by asking your band director at school or through a website like Wyzant. Local music stores often offer lessons, too, so try checking there if you aren’t comfortable studying with someone you met online.

    June 1, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1604

  • How Long Do I Need to Practice My Instrument?

    One of the things that I’m often asked is, “How long do I need to practice my instrument?” Or, by parents, “How long should my child be practicing their instrument?”

    The answer may seem like it should be straight-forward, but it often isn’t.

    Consider the following:

    How long and how often you practice your instrument depends on your goals. If you’re just starting out, you may not yet know exactly what your plans are for music.

    Is this something you want to do professionally? Is music a career you want to pursue? If you’re still in middle school or elementary school, this may not be a decision you’re ready to make. If you’re in high school, it’s a question you likely think about, but even then, you still may be unsure.

    So how long do you practice?

    If you’re unsure about how music will play a role in your future, I suggest practicing with the assumption that a career in music is a possibility. Don’t shortchange yourself early on because you’re uncertain about whether or not you’ll continue to pursue music five years, ten years, or even twenty years from now.

    Of course, it’s also important to keep a good balance in mind. Don’t burn yourself out early on by practicing to much. If you go at it aggressively too early on, you may find that you no longer enjoy doing it.

    So how much practice is too much? How much is too little? Where do you draw the line?

    Things to consider when deciding how long to practice:

    1) Practicing the wrong things, no matter how much time you spend, won’t benefit you. To quote James Clear in an article he wrote for Business Insider, “Putting in a lot of time might make you tired, but simply working a lot (even if it’s 10,000 hours over the course of your career) isn’t enough to make you a top performer. It’s not the same thing as practicing deliberately.”

    2) Practicing several times a day in short intervals can be more productive than practicing for a long block of time. It also gives you the time you need to digest the material you were working on and the energy to practice longer (five 15 minute sessions give you 15 minutes more time than one 1 hour session).

    3) Keeping a practice journal with notes about aspects of your playing you want to work on can be a huge benefit to the time you spend practicing. It gives you direction. It also gives you something to look back on six months or a year from now to see where you were. Sometimes it’s hard to see how much progress we’ve made. Looking back at the things you couldn’t do a few months back (that you can do now) can be a huge motivation. It confirms that all the time you spend practicing isn’t for nothing.

    4) It’s okay to take a break. But don’t let a day or two away from practice turn into weeks. The longer you wait to resume your practice, the harder it will be to turn it into a habit again.

    5) Practicing other aspects of your musicianship can help improve your ability on your instrument. Studying theory or composition or ear training can help boost your skill on your instrument. Time spent doing other musical tasks can count towards your practice time. But don’t let these activities dominate your practice time! If you want to improve your abilities on your instrument, the most important time is spent with that instrument.

    6) Mindless practice is a waste of time. Repetition without focus on why you’re repeating a passage or exercise is a waste of time. Playing without making an effort to push yourself is a waste of time. Create goals for your practice sessions. “Today I want to work on ______ because I need to _______.” Give yourself a reason, a deadline, and a specific time to work on it. Figure out what problems you’re having and arrange your practice so that it solves your playing problems. If you’re not sure where you’re struggling, or if you need some direction, take a lesson or two. A good teacher will be able to point out the areas of your playing that need some work.

    7) Practice when you have the energy for it. Are you a morning person? Schedule the bulk of your practice time for the morning. Are you a night owl? Practice at night. Pay attention to the times of day when you are the most productive and slot your practice into that time.

    8) Apply the two minute rule. If you really don’t feel like practicing, or you feel you’re short on time, just commit to practicing for two minutes. Maybe you do a few longtones or run through your scales. Or maybe you sit down with a passage you’ve been struggling with and play it slowly once or twice. You’ll find that two minutes quickly turns into ten minutes which quickly turns into thirty minutes without you even realizing it. The hardest thing about practice is sometimes just starting. So just commit to a short time. Or if you need some more tips on how to practice even you don’t want to, you can read this.

    A Few Apps to Help You Keep Track of Your Practice

    1) Ask Me Every // This is the application I use to keep track of how long I practice. It motivates me to avoid breaking my “streak” and it averages out the total time I practice per day. I love looking at the month view and seeing all the lovely blue numbers that illustrate how many days I’ve spent time practicing.

    2) // This app is a community based tool for tracking your goals and getting encouragement.

    3) The Teen Jazz Practice Journal // We’ve designed a free, printable PDF to help you keep track of your practice goals. Get it here.

    4) A Notebook // If you’re looking for something simple, a plain notebook will do. I keep a composition notebook with notes about what I’ve practiced, things I’ve noticed in my playing that can use some attention, and songs I’d like to practice (or that I need to learn).


    So just how long should you practice?

    Let’s take a look at what a few music educators have to say on the matter:

    I tell my beginners that 20 minutes a day and my college students are required (but rarely do) to practice at least 14 hours a week. As for me, I aim for about 4-6 hours a day. – Monica Schriver,

    Beginner – 15-20 minutes daily
    Intermediate – 30-45 minutes
    Advanced/HS/College bound – 1 hour minimum 3 hour max
    Shorter daily practice is better than longer with skip days. For advanced players it’s better to get in a 15 minute warm up than skipping a day. But they will need a couple sessions longer than an hour a week to progress to the highest levels. – James Barrera

    Definitely what James said. Most of my middle school students do 20-30 minutes and my HS students do 60 minutes plus. 30 minute lessons = 30 minutes of daily practice, 45 minute lessons = 45 minutes of daily practice, 60 minute lessons = 60 minutes of daily practice. Most students can do 5-6 days a week. Just like James said, 15 minutes a day is better than skipping a day. – Janelle Barrera

    I take a different approach. One that is not based on time but with a focus on goals. I give them material and tell them to set daily goals or I set daily goals for them to make progress within the material. As long as the goals are met, they are fine. If they reach the goals sooner than later, I have them reinforce the material on the remaining days, or I provide them with new goals. Its much more motivational for them when they see themselves reaching goals and progressing. Sometimes goals take 20 minutes to reach, somtimes and hour or more. Length of time for practice is secondary and in the scheme of things means nothing and works negatively on the pshcye IMHO. I find that students believing they need to practice for a specific amount of time actually only “practice” for a small fraction of it because they confuse “playing” (noodling on material they already know) with “practicing” (working on new skill sets) . 10 minutes of practicing and 20 minutes of playing isn’t going to get it done. However, if they have goals, its different and they actually end up spending more time on the instrument trying to reach a goal than they would when they have a pre determined amount of time given to them to practice. As soon as time is up, they tend to put the instrument down with the feeling that they did their due diligence. The goal oriented approach seems to work very well for me and my students. I have been doing it for years now and the results are pretty great! – Fran Merante,

    So how long should you practice?

    My answer, as long as you can, as productively as you can. Practice every chance you get, but only if you’re getting something out of that time. If you aren’t using your time productively, you’re wasting it. You’re better off doing something else.

    But if you really want numbers, let’s put together an average based on the responses above:

    • Beginning Level (1 to 2 years of playing) 15-20 minutes a day
    • Intermediate Level (3 to 5 years of playing) 45-60 minutes a day
    • Advanced Level (6+ years of playing) 1-4 hours a day

    For further reading, check out this post from Business Insider: The Most Successful People Practice Better, Not More

    So what about you? How long do you practice? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

    May 26, 2015 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 4143