metronome-wim-hoppenbrouwers-on-flickrI’ve thought a lot about this quote, attributed to the great pianist Bill Evans, “It’s better to practice one song for 24 hours than play 24 tunes in one hour.”

By nature, I’m a 24-tune-an-hour kind of guy. I love variety. I love playing through songs. That said, I know there is a better way to practice and make progress. Here are my three top tips for making quick progress on your instrument.

1. Slow is Fast

Everyone wants to play a song up to tempo, even at the beginning. The problem is, we experience time in a very relative way. When things are easy, our timing is pretty spot on, but when things get tough, time seems to warp and we slow down. Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re slowing down. If you want to test this, try playing a song that has some easy spots and some tough spots and then turn on a metronome and see what happens.

Because of this ‘time warp’ effect in our brains, people often lumber on through the difficult stretches without stopping, usually not realizing that they’ve slowed way down, only to speed up again when the going gets easy. This really messes with our sense of timing, which in itself is an important musical skill that must be developed.

The solution to this problem is to slow down and . . .

2. Put the Tough Spots on Loop

Forget about starting at the beginning every time. You know where the tough spots are in that song you’re practicing. Isolate a difficult passage of the music and put it on loop. Repeat that section slowly, over and over. It may only be a little twiddly-bit or lick, or it may be a full measure or two, or it may be a longer phrase. Isolate it and loop it . . . over and over and over again.

3. Practice with Someone (or Something)

Make sure you’re being honest with yourself. Practice with a metronome and keep looping those tough passages in a slow time. Then, as you feel more comforatable, raise the tempo, little by little until you’ve mastered the passage. Then, merge the passage back into the song. When you’ve got it to your satisfaction and feel you can’t make a mistake (or can’t take it anymore – in which case you can come back to it later), move on to the next difficult section and repeat the process.

One of the reasons I enjoy leading and practicing with my ukulele group, UFO HUM, is that it forces me to do this process with real people which are a lot more fun than metronomes. Alternatively, you can always use drum loops or recording of songs to practice with. The problem in these is controlling the tempo and slowing them down (though there is software for this, its too much trouble for me).


That’s the process I’ve found most helpful making real progress with my instrument: slow down, loop tough passages and use a metronome (or group) to make sure you’re being honest in your timing.

What practicing tips have you found useful? Please comment!

Want more tips? Visit NPR’s 10 Easy Ways to Optimize Your Music Practice.

Post filed under All UkulelePlay! Blog Posts, Ukulele Learning Material Reviews.