5 Steps for a Successful Return to Your Instrument

Friday, 10 April 2020

Whether it’s been a few months or a few decades, returning to your instrument is a joyous feeling. No expectations, no conditions, and veritably, no worries. However, relearning your instrument can be tricky, so I’ve prepared 5 Steps for Returning to Your Instrument.

  1. Set realistic expectations. You won’t be at the level you were at when you stopped playing. The comparison is always riding a bike, but there are more complex skills involved in playing music. For this reason, it’s best not to compare yourself to your former self. You may have retained a few basics, like how to hold the instrument and even produce a sound, but it’s best to revise your aims and make sure you have simple goals you can achieve in the short term to get you started.
  2. Break down your practice into these categories: cognitive abilities (analysis of pitches, rhythms, and textures – aurally and oftentimes visually), motor skills (independent finger, limb, breath and vocalisations), and physical stamina (breathing, isometric strength in the case of heavy instruments, and cardiovascular conditioning in the case of instruments like drums and percussion). Some examples might be:
    Reading music Scales and arpeggios Long tones
    It may also be worth familiarising yourself with care and handling of your instrument. Yamaha Music Australia have a range of videos on Brass and Woodwind Maintenance.
  3. Design a regular practice schedule. Whatever means of goal setting you use (like SMART Goals is a good springboard to design a practice schedule. If we adapt the Feynman Technique of learning a new concept or idea and apply it to a skill, it’d look something like this:
    1. Choose a practice goal (for example; Dorian mode in 12 keys)
    2. Imagine you have to teach the Dorian mode to others at your level
    3. Review the keys that are not as fluid as the others, find alternate ways to practice the keys you’re comfortable with
    4. Can you play and explain the Dorian mode without referring to your instrument, or sheet music, or any crutch you may have used?
    These methods may give you an indication of how much practice you may need to do. Advice you may remember from your teacher (well, my teacher at least); “it’s better to practice 10 minutes every day than 70 minutes once-a-week,” but set realistic expectations – try to fit in 3-4 sessions a week.
  4. Keep track of your progress. Keeping a practice journal is great for visualising your progress and ensuring your practice is consistent. I personally like to use apps to set reminders, take notes, create checklists, and also store relevant materials (videos, recordings, PDFs, etc.). One application that does a number of these things well is the ‘My Music Recorder’ app, which allows you to track progress using the calendar, stay motivated with goals, and record your practice. More features are available if you have a MIDI capable instrument.
  5. Use as many resources as you can. Yamaha subsidiaries will be consistently posting great content to help you on your musical journey no matter where you’re at. However, there are a number of tried and tested method books you can access through music instrument dealers (try to find the ‘classics’ for your instrument). Plus online services such as Drumeo (for drummers), GuitarTricks (for guitarists) and Flowkey (for keys players). There are also Yamaha artists who have long-established online courses:
    1. Greg Spence - https://mysterytomastery.com/
    2. Paul Champion - https://www.onlinevirtuoso.com/

Use these tips as a way of getting back into music – whether it be a passion, a hobby, or a new career! Keep practicing.