Most of us practice a couple of hours a day, five to seven days a week. That’s a lot of time and energy spent on improving our playing, so we want to be sure we’re getting the most out of every practice session. When I started playing bass guitar in 2006, I thought that if I logged the hours, I would become the best musician possible. But over the years my firsthand experience, research, a summer at EAMA Music Institute Alliance in Paris and the information I’ve exchanged with other players have shown me that the quality of practice makes all the difference. Here are five “hacks” for making every practice count.


I know, I know. You don’t want to set your iPhone up, hit record, and then watch and hear all your mistakes. That would be too discouraging. You’re not alone—even the most accomplished humans seem to have an innate aversion to watching themselves perform. But recording yourself has so many advantages that it’s worth the initial pain and is in fact a prerequisite to the remaining hacks below. Your weak spots will become clear. It will help you pinpoint where to focus next. It will free up your mind and body to more easily enter “performance” mode. And finally, it will help you track your progress.


The 80/20 Rule spans music to sports to computing to economics. It holds that 80 percent of our results are caused by just 20 percent of our efforts. For instance, 80 percent of your energy comes from 20 percent of the food you eat, and 80 percent of your social satisfaction comes from 20 percent of the people in your life. Similarly, 80 percent of your musical improvement will come from isolating and fixing 20 percent of your performance. The key is to find that 20 percent. Many of us intuitively know where we need to improve—our timing, our phrasing, our posture—but recording yourself and then watching and listening closely will either confirm or disprove your intuition.

If you learn something slowly, you forget it slowly!


Itzhak Perlman said, “One must always practice slowly. If you learn something slowly, you forget it slowly.” We often have an urge to rush through a practice session, hope for the best, and then leave our instrument until tomorrow, praying we will somehow master it by going through the motions. But the theory of Deliberate Practice tells us that the more slowly we proceed, and the more we hone in on one small thing that needs improvement, the better we will do in the long run.


One of the best things about recording your practice is that it frees you to stop “evaluating” yourself as you play, watching for every mistake, and instead enter the more creative space of “conceiving” mode, where we envision what we want to sound like, connect with our mind’s ear, and trust our bodies to bring the conception to life. Both modes are necessary, but we can’t do both at the same time. With a recording device capturing everything you need to evaluate later, you are free to play as if you were onstage.


Another potent aspect of Deliberate Practice involves tracking ourselves in an organized way. This is where modern practice apps like Modacity come in handy, as they allow you to organize practice sessions, focus, and trace your progression. Social media offers us another tracking tool in groups, such as Modacity’s Master Music Faster Facebook Group, which offers science and research-based practice tips and community support and accountability. Though only you can play your instrument, practice doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavor anymore. We can connect and share information with others and use technology to help us along the way.