A step-by-step strategy for improving any piece of music
Beginner to Advanced


Use this practice journey to improve any song you recently learned. We’ll use deliberate practice to make Fire on the Mountain sound more like music.

Whether you’re a beginner working on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or a more advanced player adding variation to Wagon Wheel, I encourage you to apply this to songs you want to improve.

By the way, I use the term “song” to refer to any musical piece. It could be a classical concerto, fiddle tune, or a pop song.

When you first learn a song, it’s in the “Can Do With Effort” phase.

This means that you can stumble your way through it. But it’s not yet satisfying for you or the listener.

After that our goal is to enter the “Can Do With Flow” phase. At this point, you can play the song through without stopping. It starts to sound good and it starts to feel good.

Let’s use the Plan-Do-Reflect process of deliberate practice.

1. Plan 📝

Make a plan. What can you improve in this song? If you’re unsure, then use the Four T’s as a guide:

Four T’s

  1. Tone
  2. Tuning
  3. Timing
  4. Transitions

You can also focus on other aspects of the song:

  • Slurs
  • String crossing
  • Vibrato
  • Variation
  • etc.

If you’re still unsure what needs work, then hit Record, play the whole song and Listen back.

How will you practice that?

Then pick 1-4 small Chunks that you want to improve.

We’ll use the same process to improve each chunk for five minutes. ⏱️ 4 x 5m

Then we’ll end by playing the whole song for five minutes, or at least a larger section of it. ⏱️ 5m

2. Do 🎻

Let’s zero in on the first Improvement Chunk: Improve timing for bar 1 of Fire on the Mountain. This may involve working out technical issues.


Focus on E0-A3

What’s challenging about this?

Go Slow playing this with single reps. Work out any physical problems. 🐢

Shift focus? Would it help to practice a smaller Chunk? E0-1-0-A3

Loop 🔁 this Chunk.

Then add the Metronome 🎛️ at a medium tempo (60 bpm).

Alternate between playing and Singing. This helps bring the music into your body.

3. Reflect 👁️

Pause and ask “What improved? What still needs work? Am I ready to move on?”

4. Repeat The Process 🔁

Repeat steps 1-3 with the same Improvement Chunk or three others.

Improvement Chunk 2: Tuning on bar 2. Use A Drone.

Improvement Chunk 3: Transition between bars 1 & 2

Improvement Chunk 4: Ear-training. Alternate between singing and playing on bars 7-8

Integrate 🌍

After four 5-minute practice cycles on each Chunk, hit Record 🎙️ and play a larger section of the song (or the whole thing). Take note of what you want to work on next or if the song is ready to Incubate 🐣.

We’re not striving for absolute perfection. Make noticeable improvement for where you’re at on the journey.

Rabbit Hole 🐇

Below you’ll find more in-depth teaching on the different steps of this practice journey. You can also see examples of how to apply this to songs (beginner and intermediate).

I recommend referring to the tabs below if you’re stuck or have questions. If you already understand the strategies, then focus on practicing and enjoying the music!

Chunking 🧩

When you begin learning something, don’t just play the whole thing. Break it down into manageable chunks.

  • If it’s a song, play a single line or 1-2 bars.
  • If it’s a complex skill, then break it into sub-skills.

Slowly practice each chunk.

Chunking Down 🔬 If it’s still too hard, then simply break into smaller chunks. Find “the hardest part of the hardest part.” Practicing one or two tricky notes might unlock the whole chunk or song.

Loop 🔄 When it feels comfortable, loop the chunk. Keep going until it’s automatic.

Simple <> Complex Continue moving between smaller and bigger chunks until you can confidently play each one.

Chain 🔗 Once you can play all the chunks of a song, piece them together into bigger parts.

Track: Take note of challenging chunks. Then start with these in your next session. Day by day, reduce the number of challenging chunks.

Loop 🔁

Take a small musical chunk and play it continuously. In this way you move from thinking to playing.

Start Small 🌱

Identify a Chunk that needs some love. Practice it with single repetitions. Between each rep, take a moment to breathe, adjust, and get ready to play it again.

Once you can do that reasonably well, then play it in a continuous Loop. Find a tempo that flows.

Feel the groove of this. Imagine that it’s a tiny song.

Repeat the Process for other chunks of different sizes.

Loop Alert: Watch Out for Those Mistakes! 🚫

If you stumble, then pause to adjust. When you practice a mistake you get really good at playing a mistake 👎. Try these changes to get on track:

  • Go Slow: Dial down the tempo.
  • Mini Loops: Shrink your loop to a more manageable size. Sometimes two notes form the perfect loop.
  • Back to Basics: Return to single reps to regain your confidence.

Instead of going through the motions, Looping helps it to sound like music.

Go Slow

Go Ridicu-Slow 🐢

If you can’t play something, chances are you’re going too fast. Speeding leads to anxious hands and a cluttered mind. 🤯

Slow down to overcome almost any obstacle. 🧗🏾‍♂️

Ridicu-Slow Chunks 🕰️

Pick a challenging Chunk of a song or exercise. Play it once at a snail’s pace. Continue to play single reps.

As you practice, allow the body and breath to be calm. Focus your attention on the movement of your hands. Let your fingers reach their destination with ease.

If necessary, practice the motions without even making sound.

At some point do you notice a feeling of relief?

Loop 🔁

Once you can play the chunk slowly with ease, then Loop it continuously. Maintain that sense of ease in your body.

Slow 🔁 Medium 🚶🏿

Then, allow yourself to naturally speed up to a medium tempo. Do you notice tension? Where is it happening? Pause. Turn your attention to that part of your body and play slowly again.

Keep alternating between ridicu-slow and medium, pausing to focus on smaller chunks if necessary.

Metronome 🎛️

Metro-Gnome 🎛️

In this game you’ll make a new friend: the Metro-Gnome. It’ll help you improve your timing and give you feedback.

We’ll follow a practice path from simple to complex. Note: metronome practice can be fun.

1. Beginner’s Beat: Play quarter notes on a single pitch at 60 bpm. Close your eyes and feel the beat sync with your body.

2. Add Rhythms: Still playing a single pitch.

3. Branch Out: Move onto two-note intervals and scales at 60 bpm. Start with single notes and then add rhythms.

4. Song Chunks: Take a song and play Chunks with the metronome. Focus on smaller pieces if necessary.

6. Combine those Chunks into larger sections, eventually playing the whole song.

7. Record yourself playing the song once with the metronome. Listen back to see if you drift, taking note of where. Then practice different size Chunks around that section.

Celebrate! If you can play the whole song with the Metro-Gnome, then you may be ready to move on for now (assume you’ll return).

Don’t fear the Metro-Gnome!

Sing 🗣️

In this game, you’ll develop your ear and your ability to pick up new songs.

La, La, La 🦜

1. Pick a scale or a little song-chunk and play it on your instrument.

2. Sing the same melody with the lyrics or “La,” “Do,” etc. (whatever sound feels right). Adjust octave to fit your vocal range. If you struggle, then try to sing just one note.

3. Use Single Reps to alternate between playing and singing.

4. Take it up a notch with a continuous Loop.

5. Repeat on other smaller and bigger chunks. Eventually sing then play the whole song.

Pro Tips 💡

Learn the lyrics, even if you’re not “officially” a singer.

Experiment with voice Textures.

Alternate voices. In addition to singing, you can hum, whistle or play the melody on a different instrument. This is good for people who super-self conscious about singing. Using a different voice will strengthen the mental model of the melody.

Remember ☝️

When you sing what you play, the instrument becomes an extension of your voice. Along the way you may unlock the ability to play an instrument you were born with 👶🏽

Customize this process to your needs. You may find other strategies that work for you when improving songs. Or you might need to adjust your approach to learn a particular song.

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