closeup of guitarist practicing“Practice holds a place of honor in the life of a musician.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 4

All of us veteran musicians share the same twin aims when we practice: to polish our skills and prepare music for performances.

We also know how to accomplish our goals efficiently.

We understand which skills to work on and how to improve and maintain them. Plus, we possess arsenals of strategies to bring repertoire to stage-ready condition.

The following concepts help aspiring musicians acquire comparable expertise. All are fleshed out in The Musician’s Way.

Bear in mind that I’m talking about deliberate practice and not referring to recreational music making.

Polishing Skills & Preparing Performances

The practice that we professional musicians do encompasses all of the things that empower us to perform artistically. So, although we pursue two basic aims, we do so in interconnected ways.

In contrast, misguided music students often concentrate their efforts on the mechanical aspects of execution and neglect the holistic processes essential to artistic performance.

As a result, such students endure performance anxiety and other frustrations when, if they had known how to practice, their spirits could have soared.

Complete Music Practice

To help students work effectively, I advise them to sort their practice material into five zones.

Each zone consolidates specific tasks and calls for distinct practice skills. In total, the zones comprise the complete picture of what we musicians need to do to attain proficiency.

As shown below, zones 1-3 span the processes involved in preparing repertoire for performance; zones 4 and 5 address polishing skills in two general categories: technique and musicianship.

By working intelligently in all 5 zones, we advance our foundational abilities in tandem with our powers as performing artists.The Musician's Way book cover

The 5 Practice Zones

  1. New Material: To tackle an unfamiliar piece, I recommend that we first establish an interpretive/technical plan and then work in sections at slow tempos.
  2. Developing Material: As soon as we can execute a piece slowly, we increase our tempo, refine our interpretation, and, when appropriate, memorize.
  3. Performance Material: When a composition reaches or nears its final tempo, we practice performing it and continually elevate our artistry.
  4. Technique: To build and maintain technique, we explore diverse exercises and etudes, solving problems as they arise.
  5. Musicianship: Our work in this zone incorporates sight-reading, rhythm drills, improvisation, and more.

It takes time to build up comprehensive practice skills, but the journey brings lifelong rewards. All musicians, therefore, benefit from regular assessment of their practice habits.

Visit the Downloads page at for free aids such as practice sheets, logs, and schedules.

Related posts
Assessing Your Practice Habits
Beautiful Repetition
Performance-Oriented Practice
The Self-Motivated Musician

© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © jiggo, licensed from