Every musician would love to be better but when we’re learning, it’s difficult to know exactly how to go about improving, aside from simply practising for hours.
These tips come from years of experience as a professional musician and are intended to cut out wasted hours of practise and make the best of your natural ability.
To become a good musician takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication.
Here’s 10 ways you can make yourself a better musician and as well as cut the practise hours!
Here’s my tips to making the most of your natural ability:
1.Transcribe Music: Most musicians groan at the thought of transcribing music and it can be a tedious task but it’s probably the single most important skill you can develop, apart from practising your own instrument- in fact, it might even be more important! Since all your muscular movements are guided by your ears when playing (or should be) it’s vital that your ability to recognise pitch, rhythm and structure are as good as you can make them.
Over time, transcribing music will refine your ears and your ability to understand music. It will make you more confident when you perform, as you’ll know exactly what’s going on just by listening. My advice is to get a simple audio editing program so that you can easily loop a bar (measure) at a time and then listen with headphones and notate each note that you can hear. When you’ve finished you need to go back and fill in any gaps.
2. Know How to Practise: This may sound obvious but very few music students actually practice properly or efficiently and it’s not as easy as you might think. Practise should be approached in two different ways, firstly, very slow practise, where you are aware of each nuance and detail – although it’s very important to keep the flow.
Secondly practise “playing”. By this, I mean that you should play as though you have an audience so that you cannot stop. It’s important to NOT THINK-just play. Allow yourself to be absorbed by the music and enjoy it. It can take quite some time before you can easily slip into the correct mental frame of mind for each type of practise.
3. Listen to All Music Styles: Any musician that only listens to one or two styles that they like, is a poor musician. My own specialty is Jazz but I felt that I really learned a great deal about how to play Jazz from listening to modern pop music. This may sound strange but it helped me pinpoint what was missing in my Jazz playing because certain elements were far more obvious in pop. Also my ability to play classical piano was greatly improve when I tried to use the same mental approach that I use when I play Jazz. Ignore the fashions and only listen to good music, no matter what it is.
4. Play with other musicians: Most aspiring musicians are only too happy to get together to play whether there’s an audience or not. You really want to be playing with people that are slightly better than you. As you improve you’ll find that either your fellow musicians improve with you or you’ll meet other, better musicians who’ll want to play with you.
5. Learn the Piano: The piano is a vital instrument if you want to understand harmony. You don’t need to develop a great technique but you should put time into learning harmony. Most musicians I meet that don’t play the piano, really regret it.
6. Practice for no more than 4 hours per day: This is important- I spent a lot of time when I was younger, practising 8 hours a day but I really think that 50% of that was a waste of time and possibly detrimental. Your practise needs to be concentrated but then you need to leave music alone and do something else in order to forget about it. During this time your mind can relax and the mental images tend to fix themselves in your mind like an image fixes itself on a photographic plate. Anything more than 4 hours a day is likely to be detrimental to your muscles, your mind and your social life.
7. Keep going!: When I was first starting out as a musician I felt that I wanted to give up on many occasions. What surprises me is that when I’ve spoken to some great professional players, they also had similar thoughts about their own career. I couldn’t believe that such gifted musicians would have wanted to give up but what’s more important than raw ability – is hard work and perseverance.
8. Learn to read music: The amount of great musicians I know that can only play by ear is frustrating because they minimize their opportunity for work. These musicians always regret the fact that they didn’t learn to read when they were younger.
9. Learn to play by ear: The amount of great musicians I know that can only read and not play by ear is also frustrating because they minimize their opportunity for work.
10. Enjoy you Music: Let’s face it – music should be though provoking, uplifting and enjoyable- so enjoy it. Focus more on getting the feeling across to the audience and less on playing the right notes and I guarantee that you’ll probably make less mistakes and the audience won’t notice the ones that you might make!
James Treweek is a freelance pianist, arranger and composer who has worked in London’s West End Theatre, played with many of the Uk’s top Jazz musicians and written arrangements for top UK chart acts. As Director of SMARTassMusic Ltd his time is spent recording production music and stock music as well as producing written music arrangements and transcriptions.