Mindfulness Diaries: playing an instrument


Nidhi Thomas

In this weekly column, guest contributer Nidhi Thomas writes about bringing mindfulness into everyday life.

Nidhi Thomas, Guest Contributor

I’ve only been to a handful of dinner parties in my lifetime, and of all the dinner parties I’ve been to, I’ve only met a handful of people. But for every new dinner party, there’s always one person I meet that says they play an instrument. I get it, it’s a common theme, everyone’s parents signed them up for piano class when they were five. However, the truth is not many of these people are actually masters at their respective instruments. Not because they’re bad learners or even because they’re incompetent, but because they simply don’t know how to approach the learning process. 

Learning how to play a musical instrument is unlike anything a person will ever do. It’s not like going to math tutoring, for example, where you have an aha moment one day and understand the entire math topic. It’s a process. You might know how to read music, but not understand rhythm or dynamics at all. There is so much to learn, and there’s no one way to do it. I know this because I myself was one of those dinner party kids, but I improved myself, and I can tell you now that I’m much better than I used to be at playing my instrument, the piano. Today, I’d like to give you a few tips and tricks to elevate your instrument-playing experience, so that you, too, will no longer be one of those dinner party kids. 

First and foremost, the music. I’ve noticed that oftentimes when people want to improve their instrument-playing skills, they find the hardest piece of music they can and struggle the entire time while learning it, not getting anything out of it in the end. My biggest advice to anyone out there who wants to become a better musician is to choose music that challenges you- obviously- but to a degree that playing it is still doable. 

Secondly, when looking for music to play, focus on one area you want to improve in. If you want to improve your dynamics and rhythm, pick two pieces, one for each aspect of improvement. Playing multiple music pieces can also enhance your experience because as I mentioned, it will allow you to focus on each area that you need to improve in separately, but also because it makes you a more well-rounded musician. For instance, if you play one soft, slow piece and one fast, loud piece you will be able to notice the differences between the two and the intricacies of each piece more easily because of the contrast. 

Now, one other thing to consider is the motivation to practice. Playing music pieces that are not out of the ballpark when it comes to difficulty will definitely alleviate some of the stress associated with practicing, but getting into a habit of regularly practicing can still be difficult. This is something one has to overcome on their own for the most part, but there are some tips and tricks I have for getting that process going. 

One thing you can do is practice on an impulse AND at a scheduled time. If you ever get that urge during the day to play your instrument, go for it. Even if it’s just five minutes, doing that will help your brain associate practicing as a positive thing, not as a negative thing. 

Also, when you do engage in a scheduled practice session, make sure to focus all your energy on practice. One way I do this is by wearing my AirPods or headphones to help block out any distractions. You could also listen to the music on youtube with your headphones or earbuds while playing the music, this will help you better understand the rhythm, dynamics, and overall feel of the piece. Doing both or either of these things will help you have successful scheduled practice sessions. 

To wrap this up, I’d like to say that this process won’t be easy; I’m aware. However, doing some of the things mentioned in this blog entry will make it less intimidating and help every musician reach their goals. Truly learning to play an instrument is a deeply rewarding experience, and I think you’ll find that it is 100% worth it.