The Three Pā€™s To Music Mastery

Nov 01, 2022
Christopher Maloney, music educator and founder of Practice Warriors discusses the Three P's of Music Mastery - Practicing, Perseverance and Patience.

Dear readers: you will be happy to know that I will not be burying the lead in this article.  I’m going to get straight to the point without any cute or snappy or snarky little comments to warm you up to make my big point.  You want the 3 P’s To Music Mastery?  Here goes:

Practicing, Perseverance, and Patience.  

You’re welcome. 

Now, let’s start with ‘practicing’.  That’s got to be the most obvious answer known to man (women would’ve already known this, amirite ladies??). How do you master music? Practice, DUH!  But, as I have discovered teaching musicians of all levels for decade, ‘practicing’ itself is something most people do NOT know how to do properly.  

And what is the result of ‘proper practicing’? Retention, adaptation, independence, muscle memory, application and, at various levels, mastery.  

What is the result of ‘improper practicing’? Frustration, fatigue, failure, resignation and regret.  

Is there no surprise why so many people hate practicing and end up quitting their instrument?  Remember, most people don’t practice properly, so quitting is the obvious result of not knowing how to practice.  

So yes, ‘practicing’ is the most obvious of the 3 P’s To Mastering Music, but it’s honestly the most challenging one to do correctly.  If you want to master music, you have to learn how to practice.  How do you learn how to practice efficiently, effectively and enjoyably? Let me hip you to two ways, and I believe you should actually do both of these. 


  1. Join Practice Warriors!  Yep, right out of the gate I put in a shameless plug!  This website focuses on the concept of HOW TO PRACTICE in a way no other site does.  Now, I’m not going to go over all the features but if I’m bold enough to say this site will put you on the road to music mastery, you should be curious enough to check it out.  That’s what I’m hoping anyway! 
  2. Get a Private Instructor!  You need someone who has the skills and knowledge that you want. Most of us think of a music teacher as someone we sit down with each week, go over the material we were supposed to practice, see how well we’ve improved and then get some new things to work on for the following week.  This is, or course, the optimal way to get instruction.  However, you can also have a ‘musical mentor’ who you meet with semi-regularly and get feedback about your practice methods and improvement.  I will say that, with having someone coach you and look after your musical growth, you want them to look at how effectively you’re practicing as much as they look at your progress.  For example, you may be progressing quite well, but maybe you’d be progressing even faster with a better practice ritual.  

Most people don’t think about HOW they practice, and that’s why most people fail at getting substantially better at their instrument.  Personally, I played music for over 10 years, and I still didn’t make huge improvements.  It was only when I learned how to practice that I started to supercharge my musical abilities.  

That’s the big reasons why I created Practice Warriors: to save people the years I wasted fumbling around with my practicing.  Okay, that’s technically a second shameless plug in the same article, and yet I feel no shame about saying it!

Let’s talk about the second “P” to music mastery: Perseverance!

Look, let’s be honest here; learning a musical instrument ain’t a simple endeavor.  The reason why so many people quit playing is that they don’t know one of the major rules of learning music: You’re going to really, really suck at it!  I mean, a lot.  I mean, badly! Yes, even you!  Especially YOU! 

If you start playing drum set, you will initially be sounding like sneakers banging around in the dryer.  If you start playing a woodwind or brass instrument, you will initially be sounding like a suicidal, pregnant goose (if you’re lucky!).  Guitar players? Get ready to cry like a puppy when the tips of your fingers feel like a hot branding iron has been placed on them before your callouses set in.  Classical string instruments?  Please!  Your pitiful bowing alone will drive neighbors to install quadruple-pane windows, if they don’t put their house up for sale first!  Piano? Well, at least this instrument can produce a decent tone right out of the gate. But as soon as sheet music is laid in front of you or you need to play two hands at the same time, you will wish that one of those 88 keys you are playing is the key to lock the piano…forever!!

So, what I’m saying here is that there are going to be challenges!  No one is exempt.  Think of it like a musical initiation.  Some light instrumental hazing, if you will.  But make no mistake…we’ve ALL have to run the gauntlet, and we’re going to get smacked every step of the way!  

What separates the people who master music from the people who don’t?  Many times, the people who master music failed to do one thing…quit!  They kept at it when things got tough.  They kept at it when they sounded bad.  They kept at it when they were frustrated, angry, annoyed, and discouraged.  

In other words, they persevered.  Only by sticking with your instrument when you are really challenged will you be able to get over hurdle after hurdle and become the musician you were born to be.  Only by keeping up with your practicing when things get tough will you start to work towards musical mastery.  

So, let’s say that you are doing the first two P’s for mastering music.  You’ve created for yourself an effective practice ritual that you’re being consistent with.  And let’s say that you are persevering through all the challenges that are unfolding in front of you.  What else do you need?

Patience, my friend.  Patience.  Lots of it.  Buckets of it.  Think of the Mount Rushmore size of patience, then throw in Mount Everest.  Then add more. Now double it!

This is why, when someone asks me “how long will it take me to get good?”, I already know they are in serious trouble.  This is become a musician MUST know that learning music is a lifelong journey.  There are no short cuts, no cutting in line, no magic potion to drink, no spells to cast.  As soon as you accomplish a goal, you already see a new goal mocking you saying “nah nah nah…now you’ve got to learn ME!  Haha, you’re still not GOOD yet!”.  Of course, this is just your ego being all kinds of cruel with you.  You have to tame this part of your ego by knowing that you will always be challenged and that you are totally cool with that. You also have to be cool that progress sets its own schedule.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals or some light deadlines in which to achieve skills.  Far from it.  In fact, goal setting is one of the main weapons in a Practice Warrior’s arsenal and, let’s face it, NOTHING motivates more than a good deadline!  Having said that, mastering music is not something you’re going to do in a month, nor in a year.  Maybe it’ll take you much longer than you thought just to get ‘decent’ enough to play with other people.  Maybe it’ll take you more years than you thought to reach certain goals.  

Listen, as long as you are practicing consistently, working on things that are pushing your abilities, and getting some strong guidance, then you will achieve ALL of your musical goals.  What might confound you is how long it’s taking.  Don’t worry about that.  Have patience.  It’s a lifelong journey, and you’ll celebrate many successes and achievement along the way. 

As a final thought, I’d like to just say that my entire premise with this article is totally wrong! The reason why? I believe there is no such thing as “mastering music”.  I believe that we all continue to grow in our own way and at our own pace, and there is ALWAYS something new to learn with our instrument.  This might frustrate people, but I think these folks miss the point about playing music.  Playing music is about growth, and fully-functioning people know that you only stop growing when you stop breathing.  Sure, you could master some skills, some styles, and some techniques. But mastering MUSIC?  Oh no no no, my friend.  Music ain’t a destination, it’s a journey.  It’s more about “mastering” the 3 Ps, so that you can enjoy your journey in a life filled with sweet, beautiful music. 

Enjoy the journey.  

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