Students who decide to take lessons and learn how to play a musical instrument will progress much faster if they are aware of these common mistakes.

This is a four-minute crash course that will help you avoid these mistakes and what to do instead.

I’ve been teaching harp and piano lessons for many years, and as a professional musician I am continually learning and practicing.

Here are the six most common mistakes when learning or practicing a musical instrument, and how to avoid them.

1Expecting to become proficient right away.

It takes time and practice to make progress in anything we do. It’s not uncommon to have high hopes and dream of playing like a pro right away. All professionals, musicians, athletes, and others, make it look easy because they put in many hours – and many years – to reach that level.

Be patient. Don’t expect miracles.  Congratulate yourself when you’ve learned one simple song or exercise. Keep a list or notebook to remind yourself occasionally how much you do know. Play songs you already know, and you may be surprised to find how easy they seem now.

2. Wanting to play music that is too hard.

This usually leads to frustration and sounds “choppy” or incorrect. Learning something incorrectly becomes a habit, and is hard to change.

Make the more difficult music a long-term goal, but put it off for now (one step at a time). Playing something simple and playing it right sounds like you’re more accomplished than trying to play something too difficult. You enjoy it more and anyone listening enjoys it more.

3. Playing too fast.

It seems like a paradox, but we tend to do everything too fast when we’re nervous. Whenever I perform or record I have to constantly remind myself to slow down. Have you ever found yourself talking very fast when you’re in an uncomfortable situation? Even a slight bit of discomfort when learning a new song can make you play faster.

Remind yourself to practice slowly, learning something correctly at first so you don’t have to re-learn it. Don’t rush through an easy passage, then slow down for difficult parts. It takes a lot of will power to do this. We’re continually told to breathe slowly and deeply to relax. Easier said than done, but it’s worth it.

4. Ignoring the rhythm.

Getting the notes right is only part of music. If there is no rhythm or beat to a song it doesn’t sound like music. Learning the timing can be harder than learning the notes, but it is just as important.

Pay attention to the timing when you first look at music. Imagine in your head what the beat will sound like, i.e., 1 2 3, 1 2 3 or 2 3 4, 2 3 4.  Clap the rhythm so you can concentrate on the timing. Use a metronome with a slow beat, or write in the counting for each measure. Go slow when getting the beat in your head, then gradually go faster at an even tempo.

5. Not practicing.

It doesn’t matter how much talent you or your child has, if you don’t practice you won’t get better.  It takes at least 15 minutes several times each week, and the more time you put in to it the more you’ll progress.

You can always find even a few minutes to practice or even just play the music you already know. It may not seem like you’re getting any better, but if you look back occasionally you’ll see that you have progressed. It’s not uncommon to feel like you’ve hit a plateau, then reach a new level, then plateau again, then reach even a higher level.

6. Berating yourself or putting yourself down.

Don’t compare your level of musical performance with anyone else. Music is an art not a competition. Don’t use the phrases, “I’ll never learn,” or “I’m a klutz.”

Learning to play a musical instrument can be a metaphor for life. It’s a process, one step at a time, and gets better the more we practice. Have fun, enjoy the beauty of music.

What have I missed? What mistakes do you see musicians and music students making? Do you have suggestions for practicing or performing music? Share in the comments section.