Wynton Marsalis’ Twelve Practice Tips for Musicians, Athletes, or Anyone Who Wants to Learn Something New


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 | Guiding Music Students Toward Success

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 More Piano Sheet Music and Music Theory Posts:

Ode to Joy | Sheet Music for Piano – Play and Learn™ Edition
The Benefits of Music Lesson Lab Time
Brainy Benefits of Music Education
Free Beginner Piano Sheet Music/Level 2
Free Easy Piano Sheet Music/Level 3
Free Easy Piano Sheet Music/Level 4
Free Easy Piano Sheet Music/Level 5