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Learning a New Instrument? 7 Strategies You Don't Want to Miss

Music & Podcasts

December 26, 2023

Learning how to play a new instrument is exciting, especially for teenagers! Regardless of your age, understanding the nuances of the musical world will guide you to successful performances. Playing instruments provides rewarding experiences that last a lifetime if you put your mind to it.

However, it’s no easy feat. It’s the equivalent of learning a new language – a dialect with notes for letters and lines for words. Many beginners feel overwhelmed by the amount of theory to learn and the complexity of various pieces. Basic learning techniques can be applied to ease you into the musical world, one measure at a time.

Plan Your Intentions and Motivations

Consider your initial inspiration for learning to play. Are you engaging in these experiences for recreational purposes or extracurriculars? Understanding why you have entered the music world is essential, guiding you to consider how to move forward.

If you are seriously considering adopting music as a career, it’s recommended that you enroll in professional lessons. While it may be costly, it will give you a strong understanding of music theory. Playing at an advanced level may take months to years, depending on the instrument.

Remember, learning a new instrument is a serious and long-term commitment. Know where you stand before you step forward.

Focus on Accuracy, Not Speed

You can’t rush progress without understanding the material first. When playing your instrument, take your time to ensure that you are playing notes correctly. Often, beginners rush their pieces to “fast forward” to a more advanced level. However, this can lead to knowledge gaps and burnout over time.

Once you can play accurately, play according to your tempo and any instructions the composer left. For example, these instructions (formally called dynamics) can include signs such as allegro, largo, and more. Study standard terms in music to gain familiarity with your piece.

I cannot over-stress the importance of mastering the basics before advancing to more challenging pieces. A robust and firm theory knowledge is critical to a musician’s success.

Familiarize Yourself with Terminology

Understanding the composer’s directions and notations in music is essential to performing it correctly. As a beginner, you are likely unfamiliar with musical terminology. Regardless of where you stand, this is entirely okay! This is an exciting opportunity to expand your knowledge and grow as a musician.

Explore the nuances of music. It will take time and familiarity with your pieces, but you can memorize terminology regardless of how it appears in your music. A recommended resource for learning terminology is the Glossary of Music Terms from Western Michigan University. Understanding musical terms can help you fathom how to learn theory and familiarize yourself with the musical world.

Learn Finger Positions

Finger positioning is assigning which finger you use to play a specific note. Often, notes are numbered in published pieces to assist musicians in playing. Many beginners make positioning mistakes that must be fixed before moving forward. It can impact your ability to play smoothly and on beat with quick tempos.

If you are struggling, practice your finger placement apart from your instrument. Then, as you gradually become familiar with the processes (such as lifting your second finger over your thumb when playing a scale on the piano), incorporate them into your playing. Everyone learns differently!

If necessary, consider hiring a tutor who can help you master these skills. This only applies to specific instruments.

Play Careful Attention to Dynamics

Loosely defined, dynamics are musical directions that shape your playing. Dynamics such as a fortississimo signal that the music is played loudly, while allegro suggests liveliness. It isn’t easy to incorporate dynamics into your playing as a beginner, but with time, you can play with particular attention to them.

It will shape your work and make it sound however the composer directed it – dramatic, melodic, or sensitive. Let the emotions behind the music flow with experience.

Be patient with yourself while practicing your dynamics. This step may vary according to which instrument you are learning. All musicians can agree that work is meant to be performed with careful attention and purpose.

Practice and Set a Routine

It’s no secret that practicing your instrument will help you grow as a musician. However, understanding what times work best and how to practice is significant. Start by familiarizing yourself with the notes and sight reading if you have just started learning a new piece.

Then, begin playing, following any instructions/dynamics and the piece’s tempo. Start slowly. Trying to rush will only hurt you in the long run.

Assign your practice sessions according to the purpose you aim for. Are you warming up, mastering a piece, composing, or having fun? Understanding your goals when learning a new instrument will point toward your passions in a music career.

Seek Opportunities to Perform

Regardless of which musical rank you occupy, sharing the beauty of music with others is essential to grow as a musician. While playing in front of others is intimidating, it creates stronger bonds and helps connect you to musicians. For example, music fairs and recitals often have other participants who may share the same interests as you. You could learn together!

Make your experiences known, and express your musical passion through your performances. There are often several competitions and recitals you can enroll in. Get your name out there! It will help you build a portfolio and establish a career moving forward in life.

While learning a new instrument is a time-consuming and repetitive process, it allows you to expand your knowledge and gain a new skill set. No musician has perfectly mastered their instrument within the first few weeks, and even the highest-ranking stars have made mistakes! If there were one single recipe for acquiring a new skill, it would be self-compassion and determination.

Don’t let the tediousness of entering the music world stop you from achieving your goals. Good luck, and play on!

Kelly Halliburton
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Kelly Halliburton is a member of the Creative Writing Conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, California. She enjoys writing poetry, volunteering, and reading. Through exploring themes of student life and personal growth, she aspires to project meaningful ideas in the community.