Ways To Become a Better Musician
Everybody whos anybody has a top ten list these days.
Not to be left out, heres mine -- it's pretty much like
David Lettermans lists, except mine isn't funny.
Practice. Okay, this
is an easy one. The real question is how much. I have
students ask me this all the time and I usually tell them
at least a 1/2 hour every day. The key here is at least.
The truth is, if you want to become a really good musician,
just 30 minutes will probably not suffice. I'm from the
camp that believes the more practice the better, especially
if done wisely. Mark OConnor and Bela Fleck, as
kids, each practiced 8 or more hours a day for several
Practice wisely. This
one is a bit harder. By wisely, I mean that you understand
exactly what your weaknesses are and how to deal with
them. As a full-time teacher for over twenty years, I
would say that most people are not very good at understanding
exactly what they're having trouble with. Ive seen
students countless times tell me theyre struggling
with the right hand bowing or picking on a particular
passage, when on close examination, their left hand fingers
are tripping over themselves (or vice versa). Take the
time to accurately identify any problems so you can attack
them head on.
Isolate problem areas.
Identify problem areas
within pieces and practice them over and over again. Highlight
any especially difficult passage and play it 25 times
out of context of the piece. This will allow for many
more repetitions of the areas that need the most work.
Listen to yourself.
Part of understanding your weaknesses is knowing exactly
how you sound as you play. But most beginners cannot play
and listen accurately at the same time. Try using a tape
recorder and listening back. Make it your goal to eliminate
the difference between how you think you sound as you're
playing, and how you actually sound to yourself on tape.
Listen to others.
Music is an aural art. Its just not possible to
be a successful musician from a book or sheet of music
alone. You must immerse yourself with the music you're
trying to play. You should spend at least some listening
time very focused on the music, making the listening an
exercise itself. This is most important if you're trying
to play a style that you didn't grow up around.
Play slowly and clearly.
It's important to play at a speed allows for
accuracy so that you are training good habits. It's much
easier to hear and correct poor intonation, weak notes,
picking or bowing problems, at a slow pace.
Play fast. Playing slowly
and clearly is great, but my experience with students
is that if they only play slowly, they never get fast
enough to play with others. Even if the hands have trouble
keeping up, by trying to play fast, you're teaching your
mind to think faster. The hope is that eventually your
hands will catch up. As somebody once said, "You
can't get fast by playing slow".
Sing in your mind.
Whatever youre trying to play should be heard in
your inner ear. Most musicians do this so naturally, they
would wonder why I bring it up, but I have found some
beginners dont know to do this. Make sure you are
mentally singing your pieces. As a teacher, I cant
always tell if my students are doing this, so to check,
I sometimes make them sing the piece out loud.
Jam. I've found that
people who go out and get involved in local jams reach
a higher level much quicker than those who stay at home.
Playing with others is like developing a support group
for your addiction. It is also very good at helping you
play at real-world tempos (see #7) and learning to play
- Find inspirations. The
key to success, in the long run, is to keep the passion for
playing music. Often hearing the right player, whether it's
live or from a recording, can give a shot in the arm that
will make practicing come easier. Buy CDs. Go out and hear
live concerts. And dont overlook books or films about
the culture or history of the music you're trying to play.
Tools. If you are nervous
about playing with others (9), then Band-in-a-Box
or a similar program to play along with can help you get there.
It can also be a good "non-complaining" accompanist
for when you want to go through your fiddle tunes for hours
on end (1). It can be your metronome as you try to play slowly
(6) or fast (7). If you have the Band-in-a-Box program but
don't want to take the time to enter the chords, I have done
all the work. You can download a zip file containing the chord
progressions for 161 fiddle