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  • Writer's pictureManuel Diewald

How Fast Should I be Progressing with my Instrument?

My name is Manuel Diewald and I am a Sydney-based guitar teacher in West Pennant Hills with a B.Mus. (Hons) (First) in Music Pedagogy from The University of New South Wales (UNSW).

One question I get asked a lot is "How fast should I be progressing?" or "Am I progressing fast enough?" which understandably are questions that students want to know the answer to but realistically, these can't simply be given a yes or no answer, there is a lot more to it than that.

A few things to consider are the end goal of the student (though this is tricky when they are young as the intention here is usually just to learn and develop musical skills), their own expectations, the quantity at which they practice, the quality at which they practice, and their own motivation at achieving their goals. These are not all aspects to be considered but some that are important and what probably stands out the most in my nearly 10 years of teaching.

When it comes to an end goal, this is important to take into account as you may have students who aspire to be performing musicians and will most likely be needing to put more hours into their practice as their development with their instrument progresses. A student who is learning an instrument as a hobby may be putting less time into their musical development as they will be dedicating most of their time and energy to their own aspirations. These changes often occur when a student enters high school and/or university.

A student's own expectations will also play a key role in their musical development. To reiterate the first example, a student who is aspiring to become a performing musician will most likely have more expectations from themselves compared to someone who is learning an instrument as a hobby. This is not always going to be true but for the most part, I am sure you can understand that the aspiring performing musician will have higher expectations as their career will depend on their results of the quality and quantity of their practice and therefore, the quality of their performance.

The quantity and quality of a student's practice are two different yet important roles towards the successful development of musical skills regardless of their own expectations. To clarify, the quantity of practice refers to how many hours they put in per week and the quality of practice refers to how efficient they practice, achieving their set goals for each practice session. It is important to note that more quantity of practice does not necessarily mean that a student will develop quicker. The quality of practice has a lot to do with practice. It is very important to think about both these two aspects when practicing. To help improve the quality of your practice a wide range of practice strategies are necessary to be able to overcome certain difficulties. This is a topic that would need to be discussed with much more depth though I place it here to plant the seed. Talk to your teacher about the quality and quantity of practice. If I include this in a blog then the word count and time to read it would exceed that of a blog.

Lastly for this discussion, the motivation of a student will play a big role in their musical development. Remember that students practice mostly away from their teachers and so self-motivation is going to drive a student to practice their instrument. Understandably there are moments in our musical development where we lose some motivation though these odd occasions shouldn't worry you. Longer runs of un-motivation to practice should be discussed with your teacher, parents/family, and friends to help find a solution towards finding that spark again. A few tricks that I have found are writing down your thoughts in a diary and reminding yourself why you started learning in the first place and what your end goal may be, watching videos of performances on YouTube, going to see a live performance. When you immerse yourself in the atmosphere of what you are learning or trying to achieve, it can be very motivating to keep driving through and pursuing your goals. Every time I go to a concert I want to go home and practice, it motivates me so much and inspires me to watch people doing what they love.

I hope this was helpful in some way, remember, it is normal to have ups and downs no matter who you are, even the top musicians go through this as well. Keep your head up, focus on your goals whether they are to be able to pick up your guitar and learn a song on your own or to be a performing musician.

Happy Practicing!

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