The Number One Mistake Beginners Make When Learning An Instrument

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Slow. Down.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said these two words to my students. Slow down. It seems so simple, but the concept evades so many of us while we are practicing. As a private music teacher, the number one mistake I see from beginners is trying to a play a piece way too fast. It 's natural to want to play fast to prove that you are quickly mastering your new instrument, but, in the end, playing too quickly can hurt your practice routine and overall playing abilities.

The Truth of Effective Practice

To truly master a challenging piece of music, you must come to terms with the fact that the beginning will be a slow, arduous process. Don’t rush it. You are literally creating connections between the neurons in your brain. It takes concentration, focus, and repetition, and the last thing you want to do is establish the wrong connections.

When a student of mineis getting ready to play for me a piece that they have been practicing all week, I say to them, “Ok, play it 25% slower than you think you can play it.” They will usually still hit stumbling blocks. There’s nothing at all wrong with stumbling through a piece of music you are working on, but you should practice as slowly as possible to nail even your weakest section of that piece. It’s better to play slowly and smoothly than quickly with starts and stops.


Divide And Conquer

Practicing slowly isn’t only about how fast your fingers are moving. To practice slowly and effectively, a student should be breaking the piece or song into chunks and analyzing what is happening. Get to know the chord changes. If a section is particularly challenging, there is nothing wrong with working on just a few notes or one hand at a time.

Approaching music in this way helps you learn the delicate details of every note. It helps you to notice exactly how your fingers are moving, and how to use them most efficiently. It demands that you internalize the rhythm of piece, and reveals the workings of the harmony. It makes you wonder ‘why am I playing that note?’

The Magic of ‘The Shift’

My favorite part about working slowly on a hard passage is what I call ‘the shift.’ It’s when, after minutes of intense focus and concentration, suddenly everything clicks, and the section of music you’ve been laboring over is miraculously effortless. Keep in mind, this is no miracle! It’s the time and effort you’ve put into practicing slowly. It's as if construction on those new neural highways has finally been completed, and they are now open to traffic. At that point, ratcheting up the speed is a piece of cake. Without that ‘shift.’ students tend to play their music without a full understanding of what it is they are playing. That’s no good! It’s why I drive home the idea of taking things slow during all of my piano lessons and guitar lessons.


Slowing down helps you get inside the music. It helps you understand it. It helps you appreciate it. Most importantly, it helps you play it. I wish I could go back and time and teach this to my younger self. As with many other things in life, when it comes to music practice, slow and steady really does win the race. 

At ATL Music lessons, one of our primary goals is to teach our students how to practice effectively. It is perhaps the most important skill a musician can master. Having a coach to show you how to create quality practice time can make a huge difference on your playing, regardless of your age. If you'd like to see how the right practice habits can improve your musical skills, sign up for your free trial lesson today.

Until then, please. Slow. Down.

Aaron ShumanComment