by Metro Music Makers instructor, Heath Needham
As a musical instructor, I often find myself giving the same bits of advice to students and parents that I’ve learned over the years. This is a list of the five most common insights into the life of a musician.
Play What You Love
Parents and students often ask me what type of music or song is the best to learn, and I always give the same answer – play what you love! When I first picked up a guitar, I did it because I absolutely loved Nirvana and was inspired to play their songs. I put in massive amounts of jam time without a tutor or any push from my parents because it was something that I was passionate about. Before I knew it, I had learned my first song and was well on my way to becoming a musician. Playing something that you love and have a connection with will ensure that playing your instrument never feels like a chore.
Practice Makes Perfect
Success in any capacity is achieved when preparation meets opportunity, and for musicians there is no exception. Any great musician that has ever been was forged in the fire of personal practice time. If you could take anything away from this article, let it be this – you cannot become skilled at your instrument without taking the time to practice. It is said that no one who has ever achieved greatness through sacrifice has ever regretted that sacrifice. Fortunately, most who pursue a life of learning to play music will absolutely love this time and look forward to it.
One of the most important things a young musician can do for themselves is to set goals. My first goal was to be able to play a song completely from beginning to end, and I did just that in a month’s time. Since then, I have never stopped setting goals for myself. I have gone from learning my first song on the guitar to being able to play multiple instruments, such as the drums and the piano. With a clear vision for your musical ambitions, you will be able to keep yourself on track and be vastly more productive than you could ever be without it.
Use An Interleaved Practice Schedule
Since you have to practice, you will definitely want to maximize the time spent grinding away at your instrument. One of the most effective methods is using an interleaved practice schedule. Typically, people learn songs through repetition. For example, you might have yourself play one passage 12 times in a row in order to remember it. The problem with this is that our brains aren’t wired for this. When something is done repeatedly, our minds begin to stop giving it attention through a process called habituation. Our brains are literally bored with it. The moment that something new is introduced, our attention will fully return to the task at hand. For this reason, I always recommend that students take two to four different passages to practice simultaneously. Instead of playing each passage 12 times in a row, the student would play each passage three times before moving to the next one. After four rounds of this, each passage will have been played 12 times with much greater effectiveness.
Life Is Better Together
Life is better together! Though musicians can find fulfillment in their solo efforts, music is largely a team sport. I would absolutely recommend finding a musical outlet with a band. This could be a school band, a garage band, or playing at a church. Learning to play with others will teach you a lot about dynamics, push you to become a better musician, and will help you develop relationships with great people who have common interests.