Playing a musical instrument is a great way to express yourself creatively, make lifelong friends, and keep your brain active and sharp. Everyone has a different story of why they started playing their instrument: Maybe you wanted to start a band with your friends, maybe you want to someday make career out of playing your instrument, maybe you enjoy the challenge of learning something new and interesting, or maybe music is simply a relaxing hobby for you do when you get home from school or work. No matter what our backgrounds are, we all struggle with the process of improvement. What does improvement look like? What’s the best way to practice? How can I have fun practicing my instrument? These are all questions most musicians ask themselves at some point.
Honestly, I used to dread practicing my guitar. I would pick it up a few times a week to play the songs I knew and then I put it back in the case. There was no way I was going to sit there play my scales and arpeggios up and down the neck one more time… I didn’t know what to do with these music theory concepts I had learned from Youtube and self-teaching and I started to tell myself that maybe the guitar wasn’t for me. The problem was that I was trying to learn too much at one time. I was trying to learn advanced concepts like scales and improvisation before I knew all the basic chord shapes, I was trying to play Alex Lifeson’s guitar solos before I knew how to pick the strings properly. This is why it is a great idea to take private lessons with a teacher, like those of us at Zera Music Company. A teacher can help you develop a plan to reach your musical goals and guide you along the way. Along with getting private lessons with an instructor, here are some strategies that you can implement on your own that will hopefully help you reach your goals quickly and have fun doing it at the same time
1) Keep a Music Journal
Go to the store, buy a 70pg spiral notebook for $1 and use it every time you sit down to practice. On the cover page write down your goals for the next six months, whatever those goals are. Maybe you want to finally nail that song by your favorite artist that has been giving you so much trouble. Perhaps you want to have a firm understanding of a music theory concept and how to apply it to your instrument. Maybe you want to have three original songs written after six months, etc. Whatever your goals are, writing them down brings them out of your head into the real world and every time you open your notebook you will be reminded of them.
Another activity to do with your notebook is make an entry every time you practice. It can be one sentence or 10 pages depending on how much you enjoy writing. Write down any breakthrough moments that happen when you sit down to practice so that you don’t forget them ever again. Write down a cool chord you found by accident when noodling around. Write down something that is giving you a lot of trouble so that you can bring it to your next private lesson and work on it with your teacher. Bring the notebook to school or work and write down any musical or creative ideas you have that you want to work on next time you practice. The point of the notebook is to keep you thinking about music and see the progress you make over time.
2) Listen to music OFTEN
Sometimes when learning to play a musical instrument we forget to actually sit down and enjoy music itself. I’ve found that the more time I spend listening to music, the more energized I am to practice, and the better I play. Find someone that inspires you to play the instrument that you play and learn from them by listening. Pick a song and try to figure out how the parts they are playing fit into what the other musicians are playing. Listen to their playing and see if you can pick out things that they are doing that relate to what you are learning in your lessons. Go see live music and get inspired! Seeing good live music will give you a clear example of the results of dedicated practice and a love of music.
3) Find people to jam with
Nothing will help you improve more quickly than playing with other musicians. By playing with other musicians you will learn to listen and play in a group setting, which is very important if you want to eventually play in a band or orchestra. Everyone has their own style and their own approach to the instrument and by playing with others you will learn so much more than sitting at home playing by yourself.
For example, let’s say that you are working on learning and applying the minor pentatonic scale on guitar. If you have a friend to jam with, one of you can play the chords and the other can solo over them using the scale you are working on, and you can trade off every so often. This way, you are practicing the scales and chords at the same time. It also lets you see how another musician approaches playing the scales and chords and can give you tips and new stylistic ideas. Try picking some of the concepts that you find the most tedious and boring to practice and try to make a game out of them that you can play with another musician friend.
4) Take it easy
Sometimes we feel extra motivated to improve and want to practice for 3 hours a day every day. Other times we want to sell our instrument on the internet and take up another hobby… This is completely natural! Every musician goes through these phases of excitement and frustration. The amount of time you spend practicing isn’t necessarily an indicator of how quickly you will improve. You don’t want to burn out, but you also don’t want to lose progress. Challenge yourself to pick up your instrument five times a week and do something with it. Often times the hardest part of practicing is taking the instrument out of the case. Once you have it out, many times you will start having fun with it and practice for longer than you intended.
I hope you can apply some of these strategies to your own practice! Remember, we play our instruments out of a love and passion for music itself. If you consistently practice you will reach your musical goals. It’s not a question of if, but when!