What’s your answer when someone asks you, “How can I get better as a musician?”
I hope you don’t say, “Spend more time practicing.” Most people don’t know how to practice. So, if they spend more time practicing, it won’t actually help them.
Here’s what will happen to them instead:
- They’ll keep making mistakes, but more mistakes than normal since they’re spending more time practicing.
- They’ll keep feeling frustrated, but now they’ll feel frustrated longer than before.
- They still won’t know the answer to the question, “How can I get better?”
I’d like to answer their question with these proven tips
1. Listen, Listen, Listen
Don’t even practice a song until you know exactly how it sounds. Know how the song or the riff or the melody actually goes, note by note. Be able to sing it. Be comfortable with it in your mind. This will wildly decrease the amount of time it takes you to learn to play the song on your instrument.
2. Break Everything Down
I mean everything. Pitches. Rhythms. Phrases. Breathing. Fingering. Song Forms. Note Lengths. Timbre. Everything. Work everything down to the smallest unit that you can work on. Fix small, specific problems and stop worrying about the big picture of performing.
3. Go Slow
Go really slow. Go really, really slow. So slow that there is no possible way to make a mistake. So slow that you can feel and fix details in your technique that you didn’t even know about at “normal” practice speeds.
4. Don’t Perform
Don’t spend your practice time performing or running through entire songs. Runthroughs are not helpful until the final phase of practicing. That final phase only happens when you are actually ready to perform. The earlier phases of practicing are about problem solving. Doing a runthrough before you’re ready can actually be harmful.
5. Narrow Your Focus
What would happen if, for just a few short minutes, you put all of your energy and concentration into fixing one musical issue? Just one. What if you were so focused that you didn’t even notice things going on in the same room? If all you see, hear, feel, and think about is the one issue you’re fixing, you will make amazing progress.
6. Know What You’re Doing
Never practice for the sake of practicing. Always have something you’re trying to accomplish – a small, specific goal just for today. Accomplishing a small goal is addictive, leading to more goal setting and more achievement. Before you know it, these small accomplishments will make you a better musician!
7. Visualize Success
Most musicians worry that they’re going to do something wrong. You’ve got to turn this on its head. Spend some time each day doing a multi-sensory visualization of yourself playing flawlessly and loving it. See it. Hear it. Feel it. Be it. You control the visualization. After all, it’s in your mind! Visualize perfection.
8. Stop Stopping
Nearly every musician naturally practices in such a way that they teach themselves mistakes. They play until they make a mistake, abruptly stop, go back, barely fix the mistake, and move on. All this teaches you is to include mistakes, stops, and fixes in your performances.
9. Be Hard on Yourself
I don’t mean to tell yourself that you don’t sound good or that you can’t play something. I mean:
- Pay attention to the little things you usually let slide.
- Play exactly in tune. Exactly.
- Be extremely precise with your rhythms and tempos.
- Always be as exacting as possible.
10. Know Who to Listen To
Don’t pay attention to other aspiring musicians – some with less experience than you – who will try to tell you how things work. This information will be based solely on their own experience and may not have anything to do with you and your needs.
Instead, learn from experts who truly know what they’re talking about. Pay attention to these people. They understand how things really work. They won’t just give you their personal opinion. Their ideas will be based on proven methods backed up by research and by the top people in their area of expertise.