Learn how to dramatically improve on your instrument by pinpointing your main flaws…
Then act on them by setting up a suitable practice regime!In my first 8 years, I would only ever practice the techniques on my guitar which I knew I was already good at. Although I ended up being extremely proficient at those techniques, I wasn’t improving. I found myself in a state of boredom after a while. Of course, my songwriting was suffering due to a lack of depth to my playing ability. My band mates couldn’t understand why I could play a Van Halen-style tapping solo yet I couldn’t string together a few chords when the spotlight wasn’t on the guitar. This had to change. My attitude to practicing had to change.
To take my playing ability to the next level, I began to cut all the crap out of practice time. All those hours that I would spend indulging, playing only my preferred techniques. The things that I know I’m already good at.
Below are the strategies that I used in order to progress to become what many would now consider to be a well-rounded and professional-standard instrumentalist.
But first, I’d like to mention that this article is NOT based towards any specific instrument. This blog is here to help anyone in how to better utilise their practice time on any instrument. (this includes vocals!):
1. Repetition… Repetition…
Like anything else, repetition plays a big part in your improvement as a player. It is based around the core principle that once your muscles are prone to such movements, whatever it is that you have been repeatedly practicing will become a much sleeker and more fluent motion. This is useful when you have to learn instrumental techniques and when you want to be able to play that song by your favourite band. BUT…
NEGATIVE: If you are aiming your practice towards being a better improviser, then this is NOT the way to do it. This method will waste your precious practice time.
2. Record and Listen Back
To commit to something and later review it is a technique that you’ve been using throughout your lifetime, in all sorts of scenarios, such as learning to:
- Speak your language
- Communicate with other people
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say it’s a technique that’s done pretty well so far…
In terms of our musicianship, we have tools readily available for us in order to maximise our results using this technique. To use the most basic example of one of these tools, you could use your mobile phone.
Simply record a video or a audio-recording of you playing something and listen back to it. This is a very cool way of improving your instrument techniques as well as helping you to play in front of people. Believe it or not, even though you are aware that you are the only person who will see/hear those videos, it can be a serious distraction for a camera to be facing you. It feels like someone else is watching. For beginners, new to playing in front of other people, this can be a fairly large hurdle to try to pass.
Once you’ve gone beyond that mental-barrier, it becomes an indispensable tool for improvement, no matter what level of musician you are.
3. Metronomes / Click Tracks??
If you’ve never used a metronome before, you’re in for a real eye-opening experience. If you have, you’ll realise just how much they make you aware of your timing and precision. For those of you who have NOT used one before, I suggest you give it a go.
Playing your instrument with good, precise timing and accuracy is a very desirable trait when it comes to being recognised by other musicians
You will no doubt have known another player who had bad timing… and no doubt, you realised that it doesn’t sound pleasant to the audience. To avoid being that musician, play everything that you’re learning to a metronome. The speed of the metronome is entirely up to you as a player but be aware of the speed. Especially when it’s too fast. You cannot improve if you set it to 300 beats per minute (bpm) when you haven’t yet comfortably played it at 150 bpm.
Metronomes are fantastic (and necessary) tools for any musician, although remember: Accuracy beats speed. So when you’re showing your pals how good you are… show them at a comfortable tempo!
The best part is: You can increase or decrease the speed whenever you want and it somewhat prepares you for playing with other people
METRONOMES ARE NOT JUST FOR DRUMMERS! <—– look at that. It’s highlighted and everything!
4. Play With Other Musicians
To lead on from the talk of metronomes, I believe this to be the ideal next step in your progress as a beginner and I believe it to be an urgent step to take for anybody who has played for long enough to be considered beyond beginner level.
To help improve multiple sections of your playing ability, try to join/form a band in which the other players are of a higher musicianship level than you! But try not to think of it as “everyone is better than me”. Think more along the lines of “I can learn from you… and you…”. You WILL notice an incredible improvement
In a band, you are ALL in the same position. You all want to improve and you all want to make music. Being the newbie is the best position to be in! You get to learn from players who are more experienced at the same time as experiencing the many positives of producing something creative as part of a collective.
5. Learn More Songs
It seems so obvious… (Because it is!). You need to learn new things in order to improve. It’s great that you’re watching YouTube videos to learn new techniques and it’s great that you’re reading this blog post to improve your playing but what you aught to be doing right now is picking up that instrument, warming up and learning something new!
Use all of the points in this article to help you! Just get up and jump in the deep end. It WILL benefit your all-round playing ability to learn something new.
Seriously, ask any professional musician if they have stopped learning. They will all reply with something close to “I never stop learning”. This is the music industry, if you think you’ve learnt enough, you’re doing it wrong!
Keep Playing & Good Luck
Director of Content, Buden Bay
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