I thought I would ask for help concerning best and most effective use of practice time.

Many days I batter away for hours on end and seem to get no benefit from it. On other occassions I can have the odd day "off" and I seem to have improved when I start again.

How do you balance going over old tunes with learning new ones?

Come on, lets have your secrets!! - how do you make the best use of your available practice time?

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Hi Mike,

I know exactly what you mean when you describe the day off.  I think it could be a case of familiarity breeding contempt!!  I'm learning the fiddle, and usually spend about an hour practicing most days.  At the moment I start with some scales, as I need to strengthen my fourth finger (left hand).  I also need to improve my intonation, and I find the scales help there too.  However, scales are incredibly boring, so I stick with them for about ten or fifteen minutes, then 'reward' myself by playing some tunes I know fairly well.  I usually spend the last fifteen minutes or so learning a new tune. If I don't have time to practice I just listen to tunes I want to learn, and get them into my head, e.g. in the car.   The biggest problem is having the time to do everything.  In an ideal world I would spend hours on each of the above, but unfortunately I have to make do with the time I can get!  I meet with some friends for an informal kitchen session every week and I find that I go home fired up with enthusiasm to get better for the next week.  That's the big motivator for me.  

Thanks for the interesting and informative reply Paul.


Hi Mike,....Hi Paul!!! For myself, having and playing different instruments allows me to vary what I'm practicing. Of late, I've been concentrating on playing/practicing on my bouzouki. But even with  a variety of instruments and voice, one could easily get bored and frustrated with playing/practicing the same pieces of music over and over. Also, while the repetition of scales is a good thing it can easily become a "chore" not looked forward to. The "day off" (or even "dayS off ") is a good thing. Even better is what Paul cites: a strong motivator!!! The feeling of doing something "well done" and having someone else acknowledging that, is a very strong motivator. It's surprizing how much the ego of an individual can move us to accomplish more than what's expected.

Another thing that Paul states which I think is important is the need of a ritual of sorts. Starting with scales is a great way to warm up, but ya gotta push yourself. Don't just do it to DO IT!!! Work on a balance of accuracy, proper tone, speed, right hand/left hand techniques, breath control (with wind instruments), rhythm, etc. Sometimes it's good to repeat sections of a song over & over again until you've got it, then sometimes you should go through a song with a "no matter what" attitude. No matter how much you mess up, just get through it,.....making a mental note of where and how you messed up,....then practice those areas. Also, do it slow and easy, increasing your speed as familiarity sets in. There will be those tunes that you can do well by yourself but can't seem to get when playing with others. Practicing with recordings is a great way to aleviate this frustration,.....no one there to criticize you or for you to make excuses to. Of course, we, ourselves, can be the harshest critic, so develop an attitude of forgiveness of yourself,....and carry on!!!

Last, but not least, is the "time factor". Time management in our lives (never mind a musician's practice time) can be daunting. A need for flexibility gets us through the day, or puts off till tomorrow. Alotting a specified time for practice is great,...if possible. Another excellent item cited by Paul is "listening & learning to get something in your head". I do this, especially when trying to get lyrics down. Then when practicing the song, the familiarity can kick in and help the flow be smoother, the practice be more rewarding. Ending a practice with a reward (of playing tunes that you know fairly well) has us leaving the "solo session" with a good and accomplished feeling. "Yeah,.....I got that down. Well done!!!" (Smiles and back-patting included!!!)

Repetition and perseverance are good allies. Boredom and frustration are destructive enemies. It's really all in your head!!!

Cheers, mates.


Hey Danny,

Thanks for the full and informative contribution. A lot of good stuff in that reply mate!



Yep thanks Danny your comments are very relevant, I think trying to remove to much frustration from my practice time will be a big help. 


Hey guys,

I have to admit that sometimes I don't follow my own advice,....especially when practicing on my tinwhistles. I'm so anxious to play something that I may not warm up with scales or be able to work in the trouble spots to the entire song. Since I play by ear rather than reading music (which I am able to but don't) my "finger memory" gets befuddled. Ornamentation can be a tricky thing to master. I can hear it, figure out each note, play it slowly, and then fumble through trying to take it on at normal speed (16th or 32nd notes). My fingers get confused and it sounds like garbage. But I have to practice what I preach, and master my own demons. I do know that when I take my time I usually get what I'm after, but I have to commit to practicing each of my instruments to keep my playing ability at a high standard. My 12 string guitar is standard tuning (so "finger memory" is not an issue), but my 6 string guitar is tuned to DADGAD, and my bouzouki is tuned to GDAD. I have to consciously remember to adjust my mind (musically) to where I am (tuning and chord structure differences), what I'm playing and not get confused. Sometimes it's easy and well done, sometimes it's chaos that will stop me short and cause me to put the instrument down and pick up something else. So there it is,.....my confession of sorts. A hypocritical preacher has little to no integrity, so I'll try to use this confession as a motivator to keep me honest. Wish me well. Cheers,


Hey Danny,


Nice to know that you "cheat" too ! and I did'nt know you were a whistler as well so I'm finding out lots of interesting stuff. Not least of which is that we all seem to encounter problems and issue from time to time. I don't feel quite so incompetent now! Oh, and rest assured that learning from dots (which I use as a basis for new tunes) does not make you any less likely to befuddle your fingers - well, it does'nt me anyway!





Hey, hey, hey!!! I don't "cheat"!!!! I've just mastered the ability to turn a blind eye to what I don't want to see!!!! (LOL) Cheat, indeed!!!!! Boy,....some people....????

};^) Danny

Hey Mike,

Yesterday, I went on a search (and thought of you).

I have a double flute and have used it for a few songs (flute and voice): "Factory Girl", "Betsie Bell & Mary Gray", and others. I went on YouTube to see how other flautists use this lovely and unique instrument. I think you might enjoy giving a listen to the following:

First off, it's not ITM, but incredible stuff. Go to YouTube, type in Double Flute, scroll down to "Rajasthan, India - P. Y. Voisin" and click on him. His performance will leave you wondering, "How the hell does he play that????". It is a continous droning sound that I THINK he maintains by pumping air from his mouth so you can't hear a pause or an intake of breath. After his performance (about 2 1/2 minutes), click on "PUNLO (with western drums)" and enjoy a multi instrumentalist performance that is beautifully done. Again, IT'S NOT ITM!!!!! but perhaps something you might enjoy/perhaps not your cup-of-tea (you being a Traditional Musician Extraordinaire).

There is a maker that uses Susato Tin Whistles for his double flutes (He reminds me of a "Hippie-Used-Car-Salesman",....kind of "out there", but he has a YouTube demo of his product). There are others you might have fun checking out while you're there. So there you are,.....have fun mate,.....and let me know what you think if you venture "there and back again". Cheers, Mike.


I try and make sure that every practice includes these elements:

1.  Numerous repetitions of whatever new technique I'm currently working on, and tunes that incorporate or utilize that technique(s).

2.  Sight reading from my music library, to improve fingering and speed.  A side benefit is, I find tunes that I like that I may have not heard before. 

3.  Repetition of tunes already learned or that I am in the process of learning.

4.  Something strictly for fun (though I find that with the pipes particularly, all practice is fun!), i.e. starting to learn a favorite tune at slow speed, or playing something new just to see if I can do it, without worrying overmuch about mistakes. 

I don't necessarily give all of these elements equal time every practice; I probably spend the bulk of my time on #1 and #2, but I try to have some at least of all 4 every time.  It is the nature of practice (at least of mine anyway) that some days I don't feel as if I have made any progress whatsoever, but if I keep slogging through it then I eventually find other days when I have moved noticeably forward.  I have also found that several shorter practices per day is better for me than one very long one.  Since I am self-employed and work from home, I use practice sessions as a break from work.

Wow, Lee!!! Your dedication & determination is admirable. You picking up the "pipes" recently (new toy!!!) is also a great incentive to play them as much as possible, to master them with the strict approach displayed in your comment. I've always wanted to get a set of Uilleann Pipes, but settled for a set of parlour pipes instead ($$$$$). Your particulars allow you to practice "several shorter practices per day",...which is great!!! Being retired, I find myself doing the same thing on my bouzouki (my new toy!!!),....and like you, there are days, and then, there are days. Keep at it, mate. Cheers,


Hi Lee,

Thanks for contributing. I too have a set of pipes (well, 1/2 a set) but they are still firmly in the box at this stage. I'm enjoying the whistle too much! Your statements....

"some days I don't feel as if I have made any progress whatsoever, but if I keep slogging through it then I eventually find other days when I have moved noticeably forward.  I have also found that several shorter practices per day is better for me than one very long one."

They ring true for me as well.

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