How To Learn An Instrument – Even If You’re Insanely Busy

busy man lost in thoughtTime is of the essence. Adults can often struggle with learning a new instrument, or reconnecting with an old one, because of the demands of their busy schedules and lack of time to dedicate to their creative endeavor. While making time for music practice is important and should never be overlooked, the truth is that there are ways to make progress even when you’re insanely busy.

Finding time to learn an instrument can be an elusive goal. The key lies in discovering creative ways to practice instruments, or music in general, which may be slightly unorthodox. Learning music is more than just muscle memory and there are many aspects to progress that can be achieved without the instrument in your hands.

How long does it take to learn an instrument on average?

Students often misunderstand that the instrument is merely an extension of your ears. If you can’t “hear it”, you probably can’t play it. Those looking to learn how to play classical music will struggle if they’re unfamiliar with the sounds, rich harmonies, and overall nuance of the genre. Similarly, if your goal is to play jazz and you haven’t done much extensive listening, it will take infinitely more time to develop those skills and be comfortable with the beautiful vocabulary of that style.

man playing electric keyboardWhen deciding which instrument to play and trying to understand how long it will take, first consider your familiarity with the genre, the instrument, it’s role in the ensemble, and the various sounds and styles associated with it. The more familiar you are with it, the easier it will be to learn and the higher the learning trajectory. If you’re looking to pick an instrument, consider the instrument whose sound you’re most familiar with and used in most of the music you listen to.

It takes a lifetime to master any instrument, including voice. Some instruments are somewhat easier to get clear sounds from early on, and some may take more time. Piano is an easy instrument to achieve clear, crisp sounds from day one. It will take more time to get the same strong tonal quality from guitar, violin, and trumpet. However, the guitar is unique in that once a few basic techniques and chords are learned, you can play a strong majority of modern contemporary songs from those few skills. Hence the guitar’s strong popularity.

How many hours should you practice an instrument a day?

Musical instrument practice can happen anytime and from anywhere. Not only can you practice music from anywhere, practicing without your instrument is a great way to build other music skills and furthering your overall development of musicianship. Of course, practice never ends. The more you learn, the more you realize that there is always more to learn. Those who have spent a lifetime working to become professional musicians will often practice endless hours per day working on new material.

Aside from being a professional, it’s unlikely any of us have the time to dedicate to practice hours per day. To stay sharp, it’s important to engage in active, intentional musical activity on a regular basis. This means keeping muscles strengthened, participating in active listening, creative mindfulness, and of course, playing your instrument. Considering mobile instruments for easier practice like guitar, trumpet, violin, voice, and woodwinds is something that can help as well.

Good habits for music lesson success…

Making time

Consistent time is more valuable than large time blocks once in a while. Even if you have 10 minutes, that is a great chance to block out distractions and focus on deliberate practice time. As nice as it would be, you don’t need hours per day to make large gains of improvement. Building muscle memory can happen in small increments.

Set goals

Setting goals can have a profound effect on your progress even if you don’t play often. Always having your ultimate direction in mind can help keep you motivated to practice often, both with and without your instrument and in your spare time. This will also help you prioritize what to play when you do have practice time.

Measure progress

If you can’t celebrate your successes, it may cause lack of motivation to continue working at it. If you set goals, you should be able to track your progress along the way. Keep a journal or take notes on your music staff paper with all that you have accomplished. If you’re learning new techniques or repertoire, take these new skills and apply them to new songs, or perform any new completed songs for a friendly audience.

How can I practice my instrument everyday?

Perhaps the right question is how to simply practice everyday, and not necessarily focus on the instrument itself. Technical skills are important, but without some strong music fundamentals, it will not get you very far. What happens when you don’t have your instrument?

Listening skills are often overlooked as an afterthought when adults are trying to learn to play music. Melody, song form, and rhythmic nuance all contribute as much or more than actual technical skills. If you’re learning guitar, you can practice finger patterns while sitting at a desk or in a video conference call where no one can see. It should come as no surprise that you can turn virtually anything into a drum set. You can use your pen and desk to practice rudiments and paradiddles. You can tap your legs or knees to different beats and rhythms to practice hand and leg independence. Vocal warmups and drills can be achieved from anywhere. This goes to show that you can practice instruments anytime and from anywhere!

What if I only have a few minutes to practice?

The good news is that you only need a few minutes to practice. Regular repetition, even for a short period, will be far more productive that long periods of time spread far apart. If it’s a few minutes a day or every other day, that will give you enough time to practice those complex rhythmic patterns on your knees, run through finger drills on your desk, work on building your embouchure, or do some vocal drills.

First, consider your environment and what you can do without disturbing those around you. It’s not a great idea to practice vocal warm ups in an executive meeting. It would be rather peculiar to work on finger exercises in a cooking class.

Given the right time and space, look to prioritize the areas of biggest deficiency, if possible. In some cases, it may be most important to work on memorizing the melody of a song, learning the song form, or counting the beats and measures of a particular section. If you have a few moments and your instrument is nearby, pick it up and play through not only easy repertoire you can confidently execute, but pieces that will challenge you. If you only play through simple selections you have already mastered, you’re unlikely to continue making progress.

Get creative to keep making progress.

man learning the guitar onlineThere are endless ways to continue working on music and practice even when you may seem to have no time. Listening to music is one of the most important things you can do to familiarize yourself with the very subject matter you’re trying to master. If you’re trying to learn a classical piece, make sure it’s on your playlist when you have downtime. If you’re learning jazz, the vocabulary is very different from contemporary music and will require strong familiarity before you’re able to play effortlessly. Without constant listening, it will feel nearly impossible to get there.

If you travel, stop into music stores on your way home or when on a business trip to play for a few moments. Listen to others that may help you learn some tips and tricks along the way. If you are detailed in a weekly schedule, try scheduling private lessons into your week as a way to stay on top of your game.

Working with an organization like Forbes Music can be an advantage, as they’ll have resources and benefits that can help you whenever you need. That kind of personalized touch is hard to find, and a great asset for those who have little time on their hands. Just look at what clients have to say.

“I am very happy with Forbes. Their customer service is great and my teacher is amazing. I learned so much in only 3 weeks. Couldn’t be happier!!” ~ Lani


It doesn’t take much time, and if utilized wisely, the limited time you do have can increase your confidence and skills in just a matter of a few lessons.

“I was so impressed and delighted by the experience I had! I was thoroughly impressed by the experience and would highly recommend Forbes to anyone looking for music lessons. I grew in confidence in just three lessons!” ~ Tesni


Beyond the rapid success and creative ways to use your time, there are great people willing to do whatever it takes to make your experience a great one.

“Nica has been a wonderful, talented teacher. She is always willing and able to answer my questions and I have learned a lot from her. She is a delightful person as well and we have fun during our sessions.” ~ Patty


A great teacher can help you find ways to practice and work on your music skills. Weekly lessons, even for a short 30 minutes, are an excellent motivator and can help you stay sharp as well. Forbes Music works with busy adults who seek to balance their busy schedules with the rewarding creative outlet of music. Consider working with an organization that has the expertise to help you manage that time and find productive ways to capitalize on all that music has to offer!

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