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Several years ago, when I was in high school, I played flute, but ended up quitting after a few years for various reasons. Fast-forward to now, and I want to begin playing again as I do really like music and feel like I am missing out on something by not playing an instrument. However, I'm having trouble dealing with practising.

I was a fair bit younger when I first started playing. I was more naive, had yet to properly consolidate my likes/dislikes in music, and was overall far less exposed to music. Since then, I have found out what I really like, what styles I want to play, and have been exposed to many great artists. I know that when I play, I want to be able to play at the level of those great artists.

So the problem is that when I practise now, it gets frustrating quickly because the little progress I make is inevitably never enough for the level I want to be playing.
When I was younger practising and playing was fun enough; I didn't really know what "good" looked (sounded) like, I didn't know what I was aiming for in the long run - mastering the next page of music to practise was good enough. And through that "illusion" I kept practising.
But now there is no such illusion. I know how I want to be playing and can see how far below that level I am. Mastering a page of music doesn't mean anything any more. No matter what progress I make, it's not satisfying, it's just a single step completed in the millions of steps needed to get to where I want to be. And as a result practising now only ever makes me frustrated and disappointed to the point where I don't continue.

How can I get around this so that I can keep practising? What methods/techniques can I use to deal with it?

  • There are many questions relating to this problem already on site. Look at the list on the right - there will be many helpful answers therein. – Tim Jan 2 at 10:51
  • @Tim I looked, none of the "related" posts answer my query. – MC ΔT Jan 2 at 11:04
  • Have a look at 'Bored when Playing an Instrument'. – Tim Jan 2 at 11:32
  • Can you give some examples of...? "my likes/dislikes in music" – Michael Curtis Jan 2 at 13:53
  • Do you practice anything else beside learning a score then moving on to the next score? What's an example of your playing level? – Michael Curtis Jan 2 at 14:00
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I´m well in my 40s and I started learning drums two years ago. I know drums are not flute but I think the underlying problem might be similar and maybe there are some thoughts of use for you when I share my experience?

Progress is slow which can get frustrating and it doesn't help that as an adult you learn much slower especially when it comes to motion and coordination.

I started to learn on my own using a book and youtube videos. Quite a lot of fun initially but progress got slower pretty fast and I got stuck somewhat. Easy stuff was too easy to be fund and difficult stuff was too difficult.

So I hired an inexperienced teacher, which improved the situation a little bit since he knew some peaces to work on which were in range for me and he had kind of a plan. But he wasn´t prepared well to work with adults. Right? We adults have some special demands, we have developed goals and a mental setup that doesn´t change quickly.

Now I have lessons with a professional teacher who studied drumkit and man – it´s so motivating and so much fun. What is different?

Since he knows his business he is capable of giving appropriate reachable yet difficult (you know: the thing with the carrot and the donkey) goal to me. So while I'm making slow progress its still motivating because each weak there is a checkmark on something I accomplished.

Another thing is that I joined an ensemble (samba percussion) where other adult beginners are. Failure is so much more fun in a group :-)

So that are my tips:

  • go find a professional teacher, even 15 minutes of skype lesson will improve the situation. He will see so many things you need to improve that you don't see, can't see, that it's easy for him to place a carrot in front of you.
  • music is a group thing. Try by any means to find others and try to make some music with them
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You cannot rush long term progress. I can relate to what you are going through on a couple levels. I am a guitarist and I used to find myself falling into one of the following traps.

  1. Not practicing because I'm not getting any better.

  2. Over practicing because I don't feel like I'm getting better fast enough.

  3. Staying on one exercise for way too long at the expense of all other practice.

  4. Not practicing something because I think I mastered it and it doesn't need work.

  5. Rushing through books of material thinking I was getting something out of it.

You need to do a few things in my opinion.

  1. Get a teacher. Did you have one in high school? If not try it for a while. A professional teacher knows the path you are on and where the paved part is.

  2. Regardless of whether you take lessons you need to make a schedule and budget time. A regular hour or 2 at the same time every day will help with progress, like diet, sleep, and exercise, you cannot really make up a week of practicing 8 hours on a Sunday (we've all tried).

  3. Split your time between basic skills and songs. Every instrument has a set of basic skills and believe it or not just playing tunes will not catapult your chops into the next level. I nave no idea what these are for brass or woodwind but I known them on guitar. Segovia uses to split his day approximately in half, 1 half for basic skills, other half for performance pieces. I'm sure he has other halves too.

  4. Get whatever you are trying to play worked out perfectly at a slow tempo. I'm not talking about just scale runs etc. Even practicing your attack of notes, long and short. Spend time getting perfect reliable attack and tone. And don't rush it by putting a time constraint.

  5. Write up a list of things to work on for 1 or 2 weeks and drill those things only. Give yourself time to absorb what you are doing and get it in the muscle memory, and inner ear. I do this on guitar, one page. I update every week with new exercises, I won't bump performance pieces until they are performance ready but I will work harder on hard sections. By the end of a week I usually have the set up to a respectable level of mastery (but I've been at it for 40 years). If one exercise isn't quite up to par I still bump it for variety, if it seems easy at the beginning I still drill it and try to get it better, or faster, add a variation.

  6. Don't place a time constraint on yourself or judge yourself relative to others. You need to find your pace. But one thing is certain, if you keep at it you will see improvement. You just may not get the improvement you want as fast as you want so you have to find your pace and learn to work with it. The other certain thing is that stopping out of frustration will stop the learning process and no progress will happen.

Keep at it.

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First of all, forget about your big goals; but instead make daily goals that are achievable and realistic.

Second of all, you must change your mentality. What I mean is that any progress you make is getting you closer to your goal and that as long as you are a better version of yourself than yesterday, you are heading in the right direction.

However, to actually enjoy playing your instrument, you need to learn to hear music. I realized this quite recently; and after beginning to train my ears and arrange songs, time began to fly!!! If your ears are not trained, you're not a real musician!

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