Tips to Bust Through Progress Walls and Practice Plateaus

We’ve all been there, the dreaded proverbial “wall.” It’s most commonly identified as a point in which, no matter how much you practice, you don’t feel that you’re advancing as a musician. These practice plateaus can (at best) be incredibly frustrating, and (at worst) cause you to believe you’ve reached your full potential and give up hopes of further improvement.

Novelist David Foster Wallace wrote that the path to genuine mastery of any craft is “slow, frustrating. Humbling. A question of less talent than temperament.” If you look at your own path of musical improvement, it’s most likely not a straight inclining line but rather a series of peaks, small dips and a few plateaus.

Before you hang up your harmonica, store away your saxophone, give up your guitar or pass over your piano, take a look at a few tips we’ve put together to help you jump over those practice hurdles and get back on the path of productive, meaningful playing.

Tip #1: Practice Patience

The most important first step to overcoming a practice plateau is to not give up. You must be patient with yourself, and try to keep a positive outlook as negativity will only weigh you down further. Take baby steps, and congratulate yourself with any progress made, no matter how small.

Tip #2: Practice Inspiration

Pinpoint what inspires you and do that. It might mean going to see live performances of musicians you admire, spending extra time with your bandmates or instructors, or simply listening to your favorite recordings. Not all “practice” time must be spent playing your instrument. It’s just as important to remember what motivated you to play in the first place.

Tip #3: Practice Deliberately

When you do sit down to play, are you running the same drills or phrases over and over again? Studies show that this mindless practice fails to  yield long-term gains in ability. Instead, you’ll want to practice a drill, rest, rejuvenate, and repeat. Looking at our challenges with fresh eyes and a clear perspective allows us to retain the improvements we make each session. Read more about good practice habits here.

Tip #4: Practice Diversity

Side-by-side with practicing inspiration, try picking up new sheet music that excites and motivates you. Finding a piece that you really want to learn, rather than one you’ve been assigned by an instructor or have been toiling away on for weeks, not only gives you something fun to do, you can also use it as a reward after deliberate practicing.

Check often to find the very best selection of new sheet music, including professional arrangements of brand-new songs you can’t find anywhere else.

 Tip #5: Practice Basics

Don’t neglect your scales, rhythms and time signatures. Plus, running a few scales or practicing chord progressions provides a simple distraction from a practice plateau, while keeping your music top-of-mind.

Tip #6: Practice Outside Your Comfort Zone

Remember first and foremost to play for yourself rather than for outside approval. You want to work toward mastery of your instrument, and you should take advantage of all the benefits your skill set provides. Play around with styles you’ve never tackled, try your hand at composing an original work, or throw an impromptu concert for close friends. Practice doesn’t always need to be rigid and formulaic. Step outside the norm and you might find a new appreciation for all that you’ve accomplished so far.

Have you ever felt that you ‘hit the wall’ with your respective instrument? What did you do to overcome a practice plateau? Share your expertise with your fellow musicians in the comments section below.

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