4. Find an artist you love and listen to them for an unreasonable amount of time every day. This is non-negotiable. You need to fill your ears with how you want to sound and you will eventually achieve it. You need to be obsessed with one musician for a while and do your best to absorb every ounce of what makes them great. Their sound, time feel, melodic and harmonic concepts will rub off on you and become a part of your playing to some extent. You can then take these things that make them great and spin it in your own way to help you become great in your own way. I’m willing to bet you have a favorite artist. Force yourself to listen to this person every day, several times for a month and see if any of their magic rubs off on you.
Are you stuck in a rut when it comes to improving consistently and quickly as a musician? Not to worry, it happens to everyone at some point in their musical lives. Whether it be that you never feel like you’re using your practice time to it’s full potential or you don’t know exactly what to practice, I hope these five tips will help you in your journey to reaching your full potential. We all have the potential to become great musicians, but we need to harness that potential into a clear course of actions that will get us where we want to be.
Here we go…..
1. Your level of concentration while practicing is far more important than the time you spend practicing. Effective practice is not about the amount of time you spend in the practice room, it’s about your level of focus and concentration on whatever you are working on. Of course we need to spend a large amount of time on our instrument to master it. But if you’re practicing, checking email, sending texts, and surfing Facebook while you are trying to get better at music, not much is going to happen in the way of improvement. I would much rather practice for 20 minutes at 100% concentration, than an hour while thinking about 20 different things and being distracted by my electronic devices. Next time you practice, commit yourself to full concentration for a short period of time. Turn off your phone and computer and set an alarm for 20 minutes. Conciously commit yourself to the hear and now and experience how much you accomplish!
2. Focus your practice time on less volume of material, but a deeper understanding of that material. This goes hand in hand with the last concept. You are effectively distracting yourself when you are trying to work on 15 different concepts at once. When we try to do way too much at once, we don’t get anything done. Have you heard the phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none?” Don’t let this happen to you! In order to make material a real part of your playing you have to master it, not just skim the material and then move on to something else. I would rather work on one concept for a month and really get somewhere with it than work on ten concepts and not get very far from where I started.
3. Your sound is what makes you great. This may not be the most exciting part of your practice routine, but I can gaurantee that working on your sound is the most important thing you can do. I always tell my students that they could be the best player at their instrument in the world, playing faster and higher than anyone, but if they don’t have a good sound, no one will listen to them. I truly believe this sentiment. Think of your favorite artist, then think about if you would love them so much if they had a horrendously bad sound. Probably not so much. Your sound is the first and last thing that anyone hears when they listen to you play. Spend the time to make sure that it is the absolut best it can be. It might sometimes be boring to work on this part of my playing, but I have gotten more gigs where someone liked my sound than the super hip diminished line I played over a tune.
5. Transcribe at least one chorus of a solo per week. This goes along with the last tip. If you were to not only listen to your favorite artist, but actually learn what they are playing note by note, you just learned first hand what makes them so amazing. Jazz musicians expect to be stolen from and I’m positive that your favorite artists did the exact same thing when they were coming up. It’s not about becoming a carbon copy of someone else, it’s about learning what they did and taking it further or in a different direction to sound like you want. A combination of transcription and your own creativity can take you a long way to becoming the musician you want to be. I once hung out with Branford Marsalis back in college and he told me that he has widdled his practice routine down to almost nothing but learning other players solos. If he thinks it’s important, you probably should too!
Take these tips seriously. Read them again, bookmark this page, or print them out and put them on the wall in your practice room! If you do these 5 things on a regular basis, I can gaurantee that you will see large improvement in your playing and practice time.
Have any other tips that you know have improved your musicianship? Share them below!