My title takes me back to language learning days in Asia when we used Tom and Elizabeth Brewster’s Language Acquisition Made Practical (LAMP) method. It was a practical guide, applicable to learning any language, without getting bogged down. Learning a language can be overwhelming at times. The main idea was to learn a phrase, a question or other useful expression and then go and find a range of real people to practice it on. The repetition established the bit of language, which in turn became something to build on with further additions.

I think learning a musical instrument is overwhelming at times too.  So I thought I’d look at some easy, practical little ideas you could “use a lot” this week, applying them to something you or your child might be learning.

Bite sized chunks

Rather than playing a piece from start to finish with lots of stumbles, break it into smaller sections – maybe 1 or 2 bars (measures) and practice each section slowly until it is easy. Often it may be a line of music or even a short phrase.

Playing loud and soft (dynamics)

  • Make scales interesting by playing them gradually louder as you go higher and softer as you go lower.
  • Choose a melody from a piece you are learning and get louder as the melody goes higher and softer as it goes lower. Keep the rhythm the same.
  • Choose a favourite piece. If you struggle more to play softly, see how softly you can play it. If you naturally play gently, see how loudly you can play it. Then to bring it back to balance play it somewhere in between. Keep the speed the same whether you play loud or soft.
  • Play a broken triad (a 3 note chord) such as the C major chord C E G. Play softly for the first and lowest note, a little louder for the second and louder for the highest note. Do it until they are evenly louder than the previous note. Change to another chord or play it in a different position and do the same.

Same piece/different sounds

For those learning on electronic keyboards one of the best ways to get your child to play something more than once is to allow them to play their pieces with different musical instrument sounds. (“Fireworks” and  ”gunshots” don’t count.)

 Note reading 

Every day for a week choose a different line of music from something you are learning and read the note names backwards (i.e. from right to left).

Separate hands

Simplify difficult passages (or anything you can’t play perfectly) by playing with separate hands first. When you can play each hand correctly 3 times in a row, put them together. Hint: keep the beat the same tempo for each hand even if one hand is easier. This makes it much easier when you put them together.

Fun with tricky rhythms

Find a tricky rhythm in something you are learning. It may be only a bar or two.

  • Clap and count it out until it becomes really easy.
  • Try playing it all on one note on your instrument.
  • Tap it on something in every room in the house.
  • Give it some words to help you remember it.
  • Now come back and see if you can play it with the notes it started with.


When you know a short piece really well in one key, transpose it to other keys you know. This is where it is helpful to know your scales in order to understand key structures.


None of this is exhaustive. I’m merely brushing the surface of a myriad of ways we can break down our music learning to keep us engaged and avoid becoming overwhelmed. Whatever activities work for you – and these apply for any aged learner – they need to be manageable enough to get quick wins and thus experience progress. They may end up becoming a useful set of tools you will use often. Probably one of my most valuable tools has become ”3 times perfect in a row” because I can apply it to so many different aspects of my music learning.

Let me know what was the most helpful little idea here for your situation, or if you have a little idea that you use a lot that you’d like to pass on to the rest of us.

4 thoughts on “Learn a Little, Use it a Lot!

  1. I think I learned fastest when playing with others. There’s so much encouragement being part of a group, and it stretches you. I’m sure even beginners can do that. I have now begun playing electric bass in our church group, after an absence of 30 years or so! I find it helpful to locate the songs on YouTube, and then play along with them. Often the YouTube version is in a different key from the music we use, so in that case I download the song, and transpose it in the audio programme Audacity (a free programme, and very easy to use).

    • That’s a great way to go about it John. Good on you for coming back to an instrument long neglected. The motivation that you are also doing something that is genuinely helpful to the group is clearly massive.

  2. Wow, this is a gold mine of ideas!! I am going to save this page so I can come back to it for ideas! Thank you very much for sharing!!

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