1. Practice every day.
Following Neil Gladd's lead, I have decided to offer a daily practice tip. This is probably pretty presumptuous of me--after all, who the heck am I? But maybe these ideas will be of use to people just starting out, or maybe they'll help somebody out of a rut. And maybe they'll inspire me to follow my own advice and do what I know is the right thing, even if I always don't. So here goes with tip #1:
Practice every day. Every single day. Never miss. Do it no matter what. Make it sacred and holy.
This is probably the first thing I learned as a musician, back in the fifth grade when I had just started tooting on a clarinet. Our band director kept telling us we needed to practice 30 minutes a day. I said, "Yeah, right," dutifully took my clarinet back and forth every day, and played whenever I felt like it. Then she gave us a chart we had to fill out and sign, saying we had practiced 30 minutes a day. Boy Scout that I was, I had to be honest. So I started practicing 30 minutes a day and filling in the little squares.
The results were astonishing! Within a few weeks, I was the first chair clarinetist. Even my parents could tell the difference. I ended up being in an all-county all-star band. I was GOOD on the clarinet. But only because of practice, every single day, filling in those little squares.
I am sure that you will also astound yourself if you commit to daily practice of at least 30 minutes a day. If you are a runner, you run--daily. If you are a writer, you write--daily. If you are religious, you pray--daily. If you want to be a mandolinist (is there any higher goal in life?), there's only one way...
Practice every day. Every day. Never miss. Never. And you will be able to play far beyond what you dreamed of.