The fingertips on my left hand ache. I am purposefully developing calluses. I just finished my second serious practice session on mandolin in as many days. And I'm hearing results already!
I'm almost ashamed to say, I don't know if I've practiced an instrument consistently for about five years or more. Sure I've played through songs here and there, but the intent was more to amuse myself, which didn't always work because I'd stumble over a passage, my fingers would feel awkward, the left hand didn't always care what the right hand was doing. Same with flute, only substitute the breath, the embouchure (lip position), and the fingers.
My music teachers were right. The only way to be good is to practice, practice, practice. And it must be mindful practice; it's a thinking process. The result: you teach your body the song, and whatever body parts are required to play the song. The song, and the movements that are parts of countless other songs, become second nature, like breathing.
Today I listened, I repeated, I worked slowly before I worked up to speed. I played a passage until the rich, dark, luscious tone of my instrument shone through. I played until I could play unconsciously. I listened. And after a while, I liked what I heard. Then, satisfied with a serious workout, I let myself noodle around, playing tunes I knew, playing whatever was in my head. And you know what? Even the noodling sounded better.
Practice, practice, practice. I need to make it a part of me again.