Spending more time in focused productive practicing means you will progress more quickly. Practicing five times a week is likely an achievable goal that should spur your progress at a satisfying pace. Practicing for half an hour a day (times 5 days) is preferable to 15 minutes/day and you don’t have to do the entire half hour at one sitting. Do some in the morning, a bit before supper and a bit before bed if you need to break it up!
Practicing is not grabbing your instrument and noodling around without any real purpose. Practicing is not playing through a bunch of things you already know. Many musicians starting out are playing familiar things way too fast to derive any benefit and in fact are likely to be grinding in sloppy habits by only repeating things they already “know”.
Practicing is the hard work that leads to those rewarding Ah ha! moments when new skills reveal themselves. Real practicing requires effort, concentration, goal setting and breaking big challenges down into a series of smaller ones. Turn off the distractions and slowly figure out which movements are unfamiliar. Usually a troublesome spot can be pinpointed down to a single transition- a single movement from one note to the next or one chord to the next. Isolate the single transition that is tripping you up. Repeat that one movement slowly, slooowly, sloooowly with precision. Work on clean sounds with a full, musical and confident tone. Once mastered, bring the new part up to speed gradually, keeping the clarity, precision and confident tone. Don’t play things at a speed where they
sound ragged or sloppy or are slightly out of control. Master things at a comfortable tempo! Speed comes later. This is the only way to have clarity, tone and speed. Don’t sacrifice clarity or tone for speed. Don’t even worry about speed. It will come naturally when the movements have been mastered at a slow tempo.
Ask yourself how do I make this more musical? Can I improve the musicality by adding more life, more dynamics, more spark, more swing, more lilt, more patience (ie. steadier tempo), more tone, more variations or more contrast? Or does it get better with less of something? Is it better with fewer ideas, less busy or less dramatic?
Try to make any exercises you play sound like music. If your attention is always on being as musical as possible you will have resources to draw on next time you have to think on your feet in a musical situation. If you split into a different mind-set when you play exercises (ie. they are not sounding passionate, intense, fun, lively, inspiring, emotive or musical) then you are not building the kinds of skills that you’ll need in a real musical situation. In fact you may be in danger of only being able to play things that sound like “exercises”.
Worse yet if you think you have to suffer through years of exercises before music-making gets fun you may not even make it through the “years of suffering” that you imagine are part of the process. Learn to make it fun and musical from day one. You will probably never be called on to play something and asked to make it sound like a lifeless exercise! So be a hunter on a quest to discover what separates REAL music from exercises. Find out firsthand what it feels like to involve yourself artistically in what you are playing. Get the most music possible out of every experience with your instrument. Have fun and play everything as music!
Where to begin?
Top Suggestions for Starting Out
Learn to play the major scale (doh, re, mi, fah, sol, lah, ti, doh), on one string. Learn it ascending and descending. Then learn to minimize hand movement by learning to spread it out over 2 or 3 strings instead of just one string.