I am a trumpet player, piano player/teacher and huge Wynton Marsalis fan.   Here are 12 tips he offers for practicing which are beneficial to musicians as well as athletes or anyone else who would like to learn something new.  Even if you only glance through these twelve tips you’ll see that his suggestions are sensible and realistic. They begin with the practical and move into the intangibles, such as developing creativity and optimism. They’re all “golden nuggets” because they’re coming from someone who has reached the highest level of achievement.

1) Seek out instruction: A good teacher will help you understand the purpose of practicing and can teach you ways to make practicing easier and more productive.

2) Write out a schedule: A schedule helps you organize your time. Be sure to allow time to review the fundamentals because they are the foundation of all the complicated things that come later.

3) Set goals: Like a schedule, goals help you organize your time and chart your progress…. If a certain task turns out to be really difficult, relax your goals: practice doesnʼt have to be painful to achieve results.

4) Concentrate: You can do more in 10 minutes of focused practice than in an hour of sighing and moaning. This means no video games, no television, no radio, just sitting still and working…. Concentrated effort takes practice too, especially for young people.

5) Relax and practice slowly: Take your time; donʼt rush through things. Whenever you set out to learn something new – practicing scales, multiplication tables, verb tenses in Spanish – you need to start slowly and build up speed.

6) Practice hard things longer: Donʼt be afraid of confronting your inadequacies; spend more time practicing what you canʼt do…. Successful practice means coming face to face with your shortcomings. Donʼt be discouraged; youʼll get it eventually.

7) Practice with expression: Every day you walk around making yourself into “you”, so do everything with the proper attitude…. Express your “style” through how you do what you do.

8) Learn from your mistakes: None of us are perfect, but donʼt be too hard on yourself. If you drop a touchdown pass, or strike out to end the game, itʼs not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, analyze what went wrong and keep going….

9) Donʼt show off: Itʼs hard to resist showing off when you can do something well…. But my father told me, “Son, those who play for applause, thatʼs all they get.” When you get caught up in doing the tricky stuff, youʼre just cheating yourself and your audience.

10) Think for yourself: Your success or failure at anything ultimately depends on your ability to solve problems, so donʼt become a robot…. Thinking for yourself helps develop your powers of judgment.

11) Be optimistic: Optimism helps you get over your mistakes and go on to do better. It also gives you endurance because having a positive attitude makes you feel that something great is always about to happen.

12) Look for connections: If you develop the discipline it takes to become good at something, that discipline will help you in whatever else you do…. The more you discover the relationships between things that at first seem different, the larger your world becomes. In other words, the woodshed can open up a whole world of possibilities.

Learn more about Wynton Marsalis here.


Sight reading is certainly an essential skill that you should actively develop in the piano students that you teach. With this post I will share a couple of my approaches to introducing new pieces, and then encourage you to add a comment.

Scan – Scan the piece before you even play a note. Ask your students what they see. Give them specific goals. What is the key signature? Which notes will be sharp/flat? What is the hand position of the piece. What section of the piece appears to be repeated? Are there any unfamiliar notes or rhythms?

Practice Rhythms – Consider breaking down a few of the challenges that the piece will present. Since rhythms are always the greatest challenge, choose a few phrases and work through the counting. Next, try clapping the rhythm. Then play the rhythm on a single key on the piano. Finally, try it as written. Presenting the challenges like this provides building blocks that challenge the student, and helps keep things interesting on their road to success.

Practice Phrases – Practice new pieces phrase by phrase. This will provide them with a good understanding on how to practice at home, and what each passage will sound like.

Review Dynamics/Articulation – I always tell my students, “You can’t put the cherry on top until you put the ice cream in the bowl.” In other words, you shouldn’t focus on playing the dynamics if you can’t play the notes. Since your student is not yet performing the notes and rhythms correctly, they are certainly not ready to add dynamics and correct articulation.  You can, however, take the time to review a few of the goals for the week. Point out staccatto/legato notes, and demonstrate how they are performed. Also, show them where the dynamic marking are, and then perform the piece for them. Encourage them to raise their hand every time you play forte, for example. Having a goal like this will help them stay engaged.

Okay, now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your ideas.


Browse other “The Piano Student” posts:

The Benefits of Music Lesson Lab Time
The Ultimate Music Lesson Lab Resource Guide | Free Online Resources
Brainy Benefits of Music Education
Poke-the-Key Game | Keyboard Key Identification


Print a free Great Composer Scavenger Hunt worksheet from the MakingMusicFun.net website, and then introduce your kids to the great composers. You will need to head to the “Meet the Composer” Biographies to hunt for the facts.

Meet the Composer” Scavenger Hunt Worksheet

Questions include:

Which composer’s music was performed by 50 musicians on one barge as the king 

listened from his royal barge? _________________


Which composer sometimes forgot to attach his suspenders, only to have to hold his

pants up while conducting to keep them from falling down? _________________


Browse other “The Piano Student” posts:

Free Printable Coloring Pages | Great Composers
Free Sheet Music | Fur Elise for Piano
Free Sheet Music | Canon in D for Piano

Every article on About.com is composed by a real person you can talk to.  Your guide in Music Education is Espie Estrella, a pianist and songwriter.

Espie says:

“Music is all around us; it touches everyone regardless of culture and age. As your guide to music education, it is my goal to introduce you to topics relating to music. From music history to types of musical instruments and other relevant subjects, I hope this web site will be of help to you. Nobody is too young or too old for music, that’s why I wish you the inspiration to pursue your musical dream.”

In my many visits to Espie’s content on About.com I have been pleased to find well planned, and well written articles.

Music Education – Homepage
Instruments – A beginner’s guide for selecting and learning how to play an instrument.
Music Theory – Learn music theory basics including basic symbols, scales and intervals and triads and chords.
History and Composers – Learn about how music has evolved over the centuries, and get to know the famous composers from each musical period.

Want to keep up with everything that is being added?  Sign-up for the Music Education Newsletter.

Conductors most commonly rely on a supplemental income to support themselves and their families.  Some conductors enjoy an international reputations, and are able to support themselves very well.  There are also several hundred jobs around the world with major orchestras and opera companies, and music theater groups that provide comfortable salaries for conductors.

The greatest number of conductors are conductor/teachers in the public and private school system, and conductors for church choirs and community music groups. 


Requirements for Conductor
Conductors are typically university trained musicians.  While some graduate with a degree specifically in conducting, others will graduate with a degree in another area such as music performance.  These conductors will later work to enhance their conducting skills through practice and opportunities the conduct bands and orchestras.

5 Free Printable Practice Charts
Choose from 5 free colorful printable practice charts available from MakingMusicFun.net.

A practice chart/record is a wonderful way to encourage practice time. Kids love to be recognized for their effort, whether it be for specific things like memorizing their scales, or for general things like meeting daily practice goals. Let your child add his/her own sticker each time they achieve their goal. Once your child has met their long term goal, shower them with praise. If that doesn’t seem to do the trick, you may have to break out the cookies.

Get Practice Sticker Charts

Toss those printable worksheets! Check out the new music theory arcade games at MakingMusicFun.net! They are great fun, and free to play!


‘Music Press Distress’ Music Theory Arcade Game

“The music printing press has gone bezerk! Help Oliver catch the notes that are flying from the press to print the music books. But watch out! Three bonks on the head, or three incorrect answers will end the game.”

Learn to identify 6 basic rhythms with Oliver and the gang, including the whole note, the half note, the eighth note, the dotted half note, and the dotted quarter note.



Browse other “The Piano Student” music theory posts:

Flash Frog™ | Free Printable Music Flashcards for Beginners
Free Music Memory Game | Treble Clef Note Names
Pirate Quest | Basic Music Terms Game (Free, Printable)
Music for Little Mozarts | iPad App Review
Carnegie Hall Park (Matchbox Parking) | Music Theory Board Game

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