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Musical Growth: Thought Process, Practice and Dedication

Practice roomOver the years, I have had the opportunity to hear expressed all manner of explanation as to why someone is not progressing as they wish.

Although every situation and individual is unique, some common “explanations” are the result of fallacious thinking. For those who wish to be serious in their study, the two ideas below can be very damaging to their progress.

“All I need to do is take lessons with ___________. Then it is guaranteed I will become a great player, just as they are.”

While there is no doubt that a master teacher can help us in our journey to become great performers, it is only a single part of the greater equation. It may be a large part in many cases, but is only a part.

Certainly, the best progress results from the combined efforts of master teacher and dedicated student, but the bulk of responsibility lies with the student. Primarily, this is because individual progress does not only occur in the meetings with the teacher, but in the many practice sessions in-between meetings. If regular progress is not made in-between lessons, any progress that is made in lessons alone will be slow.

While a curious, conscientious and driven student may advance despite poor teaching, the opposite is not true. Even a master teacher cannot make up for a student who does not apply the material with regularity between lessons.

“I really want to perform at a high level, but my life is so busy right now, I just can’t find time to practice. That’s OK, though. Once _____________ is over, I’ll have more time. Then I’ll really be able to focus on my instrument. Then I will make real progress.”

The idea that we can put off practicing now and make up for it later is extremely damaging to true progress. For most of us, if we don’t practice now, we won’t do it later either. There will always be some reason why we can’t find the time to practice. If we do practice in spurts, our skills will be tenuous and our progress slowed severely. Nothing advances and solidifies us like regular practice.

Obviously, there are occasions where we just can’t carve out time at our instrument. Perhaps we are traveling, or there is a family crisis, for example. However, if we are to maintain our skill level, much less progress to higher levels, these occasions must be extremely rare.

When we rationalize our lack of practice with the statement “I don’t have time now, but I will later,” it may represent a misunderstanding of what it actually takes to perform at a high level. However, it may also simply be an indication of our true priorities. Practice, and our musical progress, just isn’t that important in our life right now. If it were, we would find the time. Perhaps we should choose another path.

If we truly wish to make music our life path, however, we must find time at our instrument, even when it is inconvenient. Regular practice must be important to us, even when it is not easy.

Where are you on your musical path, and how do you stay focused? I’d love to hear your story. Please share in the comments.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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