Every growing musician should be doing two things simultaneously…
- Adding music they love to their REPERTOIRE.
- Developing their MUSICIANSHIP and TECHNIQUE in a way that supports the above.
To that end, embrace the following recommendations:
Be Selective. Do not waste a single heartbeat playing music you do not enjoy, that is no fun to play, or that you have no intentions of keeping in your repertoire.
Don’t Get Exercise-Happy. Once you have some basic understanding of the rudiments of music (scales, chords, rhythm, etc), go right to the kind(s) of music that you want to play and tailor your studies accordingly. Don’t waste precious time doing “exercises”. If you want to get good at Bach, study Bach. If you want to play Blues, study Blues and Boogie Woogie. There you will discover the analytical and technical problems that are unique to the music that you want to play.
Distribute Your Study-Practice Over Time. Five focused minutes a day are far more effective than five crammed hours once a week.
Work on Your Weaknesses. Stop wasting time “practicing” things you already know. Make an honest list of weaknesses. Write them on sticky notes or popsicle sticks and put them on you music stand where they will be a constant reminder. And be very specific. For example: “Bach Invention #8, measures 19-20: left hand technique”, “Pink Panther, improvisation ideas”, “Take the A Train, analyze chord changes”, Gospel Shout Bass Line, rhythm feels off”, “Riders on the Storm, intro fingering”, “G# Minor Scale, sing solfege”, etc), “Performance anxiety, practice smiling”, “Girl From Ipanema, last two bars”.
Mix Things Up. It is good educational psychology to work on many different skills in a single session, things that use different parts of your brain (and therefore do not interfere with each other): technique, ear training, harmonic analysis, melody, rhythm.
Record Yourself. Record everything and listen to the playback immediately! There are not enough superlatives to convey how critically important such feedback is to your self-awareness and development.
Cherish your Mistakes. Every time that you make a mistake or discover a weakness, it is time to celebrate! You have been bestowed a precious gift: a golden opportunity to learn something. A mistake tells you what you need to work on. When you have identified a weak area, you must focus on that particular area like a brain surgeon… with laser-like focus where no detail is too small: every note, rest, finger location, articulation, thought, and sensation. Your constructive response to these “precious” mistakes is what mastery is made of.
Study First, Practice Second. Only after you’ve solved the problem, is it time to “practice”. Practicing your mistakes is not a solution. It just embeds the problem even deeper into your unconscious.
Eliminate Worries. The best way to stop worrying is to eliminate things to worry about. Stop worrying about the wrong things and start worrying about the right things. Stay tuned for lots more on this is subsequent lessons.
Practice for Performance. The way you study-practice a piece of music (or not) will be the way you know a piece of music (or not) and the way know a piece of music (or not) will be the way you perform a piece of music (or not). Each and every time you study-practice anything, it should be preparation for performance.
Take Care of Yourself. Respect the precious vehicle that is your body by eating right, sleeping regularly, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular exercise. A healthy lifestyle results in more energy, better focus, faster learning, lower stress, and more resilience in the face of adversity.